Refugees in the conflict-torn Kokang region of Shan State have accused Myanmar government troops of gang rape, beatings and shootings of unarmed civilians, in a bid to terrorize the local population since fighting with ethnic forces began on Feb. 9.
Kokang refugee Liu Zhengxiang, who frequently returns from China's neighboring province of Yunnan to take care of animals at her home in Shiyuanzi on the Myanmar side of the border, said groups of Myanmar government soldiers are roaming around, using rape, beatings and shootings as a weapon of war against local people.
"The Myanmar army...comes at night, when you can't see them, because they think that the local people are working for [Kokang commander] Peng Jiasheng," Liu said.
"If they see a woman, they will rape her," she said. "They tie her hands up with wire, twisted tight with pliers, so that it tears into her flesh. When they are done raping her, they let her go."
Liu said the groups of soldiers are attacking civilians in the belief that they are Peng's soldiers, even if they are unarmed.
"Some of Peng's troops don't wear uniform, so when the Myanmar army sees them, especially if they are young, they assume they are Peng's people."
Photos obtained by RFA from the region in recent weeks have shown young women fighting in Peng's Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) forces. However, the women in the photos wore green military uniforms.
The MNDAA is trying to retake the Kokang self-administered zone in northeastern Myanmar's Shan that it had controlled until 2009.
A view inside a makeshift refugee camp on the Chinese side of the border. Video: Xin Lin/RFA
Raping women, beating men
Liu said men were also being targeted by Myanmar government forces for violent attacks.
"If they see a man, they tie them up and beat them with a wooden stick," she said.
She said she had witnessed the shooting of a 70-year-old civilian by Myanmar soldiers on a recent trip home.
"They shot two of his toes off as he was getting into a vehicle, but he hadn't managed to shut the door yet," Liu said.
Xu Yong, a refugee who escaped to Yunnan from Yanjiaozhai village on the Myanmar side of the border, said he had witnessed an attack by government troops in the village on March 19.
"They smashed in doors and beat up anyone they saw," Xu told RFA in a recent interview. "They pointed their guns at the local people, and pushed them into a huddle in an open space in the village."
"Four people were killed and 13 people were wounded, and two people are missing," he said.
Massacres in Kokang
Kokang high school teacher Qiu Yongbin, currently based in Yunnan's Nansan township and helping teach refugee children at the Border Marker No. 125 refugee camp, said the army is 'massacring' local people.
"Wherever they go, they massacre whole villages, massacre them," Qiu said.
"If you give me a sniper rifle, I'll go and join in the war."
Qiu said the ethnic Chinese of Kokang aren't treated as Myanmar citizens in their own country, and carry ID cards identifying them as "not citizens of this country."
Fellow Kokang refugee Liu Xiaowen said local residents who hadn't been attacked by government troops had had their homes ransacked and their belongings stolen by them.
"They've been in charge of this country for several decades now, but they have never treated Kokang people as their own people," Liu Xiaowen said. "They treat us like the enemy, and they steal our stuff."
Liu said hunger is becoming a widespread problem among the estimated 100,000 cilivians displaced from the border region by the conflict.
"If they are hungry, they'll steal," he said. "The elderly and the children are starving, and they don't want to watch them die."
"So they have to steal. The only alternative is to go and get food from Kokang, and risk getting beaten to death by the Myanmar army."
Refugee Fang Yongwen, who ran a prosperous supermarket in the once-bustling regional capital Laukkai, said local people now fear for their lives on the Myanmar side of the border.
"Things are tough here, but it's better to stay alive," Fang said. "Over there, there's no guarantee that you'll live."
"When Peng Jiasheng was in charge, Laukkai ruled its own affairs... and excluded the Myanmar army, who act without reason."
Tensions in the region are running high amid a relative lull in fighting between government and Kokang forces, as a major government assault is widely expected in the next few days, sources said.
A Kokang resident on the Myanmar side of the border said sporadic shelling and gunfire bursts had been heard, but that another government attack is expected soon.
"The Myanmar army is going to launch an attack, but we're still only talking about surrounding and taking rebel positions," he said. "There's no way they can wage all-out war."
In Nansan, China's armed police and People's Liberation Army (PLA) have stepped up patrols, a resident surnamed Zhang told RFA.
"The PLA is all in position here now, an they have anti-missile missiles," Zhang said. "The guesthouse next door to our house has been totally taken over by PLA soldiers."
"There are helicopters filling up the sports field at the school," Zhang said, adding: "China is prepared, and we are pretty safe here."
Reported by Xin Lin and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.