Ethnic armed groups fighting the Myanmar army in the country’s volatile northern states met with a Chinese special envoy on Wednesday to discuss stopping deadly clashes along the border that have forced tens of thousands of Myanmar residents to flee to China.
Delegates from the Northern Alliance—comprising the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—along with the United Wa State Party—the political arm of the China-backed United Wa State Army (UWSA)—held separate talks with Sun Guoxiang, China’s special envoy for Asian affairs, in Kunming, capital of southwestern China’s Yunnan province.
The MNDAA, also known as the Kokang army, is involved in ongoing hostilities with Myanmar security forces after launching an attack on a police station, military camps, and civilian buildings on March 6 in Laukkai township in northeastern Shan State.
Dozens have been reported killed in the skirmishes that have driven more than 30,000 people to flee to safety, mostly in China where the Chinese government is housing them in refugee camps.
Calls by the Chinese government for an immediate cease-fire and the restoration of order along the border area have been ignored.
Sun Guoxiang told the representatives from the ethnic armed groups that China would be willing to mediate negotiations between the militias and the Myanmar government, Brigadier General Nyo Tun Aung, the AA’s vice commander-in-chief, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We were told we need to have direct talks with the Myanmar [government] or, if we desire, China could mediate as a third party in discussions with the government to reduce the number of clashes and stop them from occurring along the border,” he said.
“He said we could hold the talks in Kunming,” Nyo Tun Aung said.
Sun Guoxiang informed the delegates about what he had discussed with Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, military commander-in-chief senior general Min Aung Hlaing, and government peace negotiators during his visit to Naypyidaw on Feb. 28-March 3.
The Chinese envoy told them that he had wanted the fighting along the border to stop during the Chinese New Year holidays early last month, Nyo Tun Aung said.
“[But] the government and the military do not see eye-to-eye on the border issue, and the military leaders said at a recent news conference that they had no plans to hold talks with the AA, TNLA or MNDAA,” he said.
“They haven’t changed their attitude towards us as we are seeing them launch more offensives against us,” he said, adding that there had been more clashes with government troops during the last few days, not only in the Kokang area of northeastern Shan state but also along the Lashio-Muse Union Highway, a major thoroughfare in the area.
Myo Tun Aung also said that some of the recent clashes have been unavoidable and that the ethnic militias have had to fight back to defend themselves.
“We’ll have to find an outlet from one place or another if they keep on blocking us,” Myo Tun Aung said.
The MNDAA has said that it launched the March 6 attack in retaliation for the government army’s offensives in Kokang-controlled territory.
The Myanmar News Agency has reported 57 armed clashes between the MNDAA and government soldiers up to March 14.
“Min Aung Hlaing told Sun that the Myanmar military would not attack the ethnic armed groups if left unprovoked, and we also adhere to the same principle,” Myo Tun Aung said.
The Northern Alliance conducted coordinated attacks on government and military targets in northern Shan state last November.
Myo Tun Aung’s comments came as the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of nine ethnic armed groups that did not sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement with the government in October 2015, cautioned that China has been interfering to some extent in ethnic politics in Myanmar, especially regarding the peace process, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
The organization believes that China’s interference could worsen the hostilities involving the Northern Alliance in northern Myanmar.
The UNFC held three days of emergency meetings in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, to discuss how the organization is trying to resolve the country’s conflict through political rather than military means.
The renewed fighting has come as a blow for the administration of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose main goals are to end decades of civil wars that have plagued the country and to forge lasting peace. Her government is planning to hold another round of peace talks this month.
Reported by Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.