Myanmar Rejects Claim its Troops Used Chemical Weapons in Border Conflict

2015-10-29
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Border between southwestern China and Myanmar's Kokang region, where fighting between government forces and local ethnic armies has been going on sporadically since February, in photo taken April 6, 2015.
Border between southwestern China and Myanmar's Kokang region, where fighting between government forces and local ethnic armies has been going on sporadically since February, in photo taken April 6, 2015.
AFP

Myanmar government troops fighting ethnic armies in the northern Shan State region near the Chinese border have once more been accused of firing chemical weapons during a recent resurgence of fighting in the latter half of this month, a local resident told RFA.

"They are still fighting up in the mountains, and the Myanmar army has been using chemical shells," a local resident surnamed Li told RFA on Wednesday. "After people inhale it, they become unable to hear or speak."

Li offered no assumptions about the chemical contents of the shells, saying only that they were interspersed with the firing of conventional rounds.

"Some people have been hurt and have been taken to hospital [across the border] in China for treatment," Li said.

"This news hasn't been made public, but the relatives of one of the brothers in our church congregation was affected by it up near the border," he said.

"He told us about after he came back down from the hills."

A senior official in the office of Myanmar's president told RFA's Myanmar Service on Thursday confirmed that the army had been conducting military operations in the Kokang area of Shan State, but he denied the use of chemical weapons and said the country's armed forces "do not use such weapons at all."

A doctor who answered the phone at the Zhenxiong County Hospital on the Chinese side of the border in Yunnan province said he hadn't heard of any patients affected by chemical weapons.

Repeated accusations

Ethnic armed rebel groups including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have accused the Myanmar military of using chemical weapons as recently as last year in the conflict in the remote and mountainous border region.

A high-ranking KIA official surnamed Pai told RFA that the recent report was plausible.

"[The Myanmar government] used them when they were fighting against us in 2011," Pai said. "Some people fainted, while others vomited, there will be symptoms of poisoning."

"The recovery takes a long time, and some people haven't recovered to this day," he said, adding that government troops are at pains to conceal the use of gas in warfare.

"They use them on the sly," Pai said. "We even sent evidence to the United Nations about this, to tell them what happened over here."

The report comes after renewed clashes between Myanmar’s army and armed ethnic insurgents in Shan state forced residents to flee some villages amid fighting between army brigades 99 and 88 and the KIA.

Pai said the KIA had been forced to retreat from Camp No. 9 in the region.

"There were more than 1,000 of them, and only around 100 of us, just one camp," he said. "So we retreated and left Camp No. 9 headquarters to the government."

"There is still fighting in Kokang right now, yesterday and today, and the fighting has started again in [the regional capital] Laukkai," he said.

The fighting is continuing in spite of a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) between the government and eight rebel groups on Oct. 15 in a bid to end decades of civil war in the transitioning Southeast Asian nation.

The KIA refused to sign the agreement, while clashes have also continued between the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), the armed wing of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), and government troops since Oct. 6.

Looming questions

Despite political and economic reforms enacted since Myanmar's military junta gave up power more than two years ago, experts say there are still looming questions about possible chemical weapons stockpiles and the use of the banned weapons in armed conflict.

Myanmar's government has repeatedly denied that the country has any chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons programs.

Washington voiced suspicions during the 1980s and early 1990s over a possible chemical weapons program under the military junta, naming China and North Korea as possible suppliers, but has made no recent allegations.

Myanmar ratified the chemical weapons convention, becoming the 191st member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in July, with membership taking effect in August.

Foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin said in a statement at the time: "Myanmar is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the convention and looks forward to cooperating with other states to bring about a world completely free of chemical weapons."

The OPCW won the Nobel Peace prize in 2013 for its work in the wake of efforts to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stockpile.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service and by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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