At least seven people were injured in explosions on the Chinese side of the border with Myanmar during the recent fighting between government troops and rebel forces in the northeastern Shan state region of Kokang, sources told RFA on Friday.
The explosions spilled across the border amid heavy Myanmar government shelling of the remote and mountainous border area held by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) under ethnic Chinese commander Peng Jiasheng, residents and officials in neighboring Yunnan province said.
The blasts, described as both “bombs” and “shells” by local people, hit an area near the Pengcheng restaurant in the Xincheng district of Yunnan's Nansan township, destroying a number of vehicles and injuring at least eight people, according to local residents.
"Eight people were injured," a Nansan resident surnamed Luo told RFA. "The blasts were incredibly loud."
"There have been bombs exploding a lot in recent days, and a lot of people are terrified," she said.
Luo said five explosions hit the township between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Thursday.
"Five bombs fell in Nansan, and of those, two of them exploded in Wenming New Village," she said.
"I was at a friend's house, very close, and the explosions were outside their home, near the Pengcheng restaurant," Luo said.
"I went to the scene to take some photos to send out on social media, but then the whole place was locked down," she said.
According to Myanmar Online, eight people were injured in total, seven of them staff at the Pengcheng restaurant, and one a passerby.
A Nansan resident surnamed Li said clashes had broken out with local people after the authorities prevented anyone from taking photos of the scene.
"It was right next to my friend's house, just over 100 meters [328 feet] away," Li said. "After the people got injured, the armed police sealed off the area and wouldn't let anyone take photos, and wouldn't let people stand and watch."
"Some young people got into clashes with the armed police and regular police at the scene, because they weren't allowed to take photos, and because the army didn't send troops in response to the incident," he said.
Asked why no one was allowed to take photos, Li said: "It's always been that way in China. They won't let people take photos of anything that happens."
"Officials also won't allow people to speak about anything to do with Kokang."
"I am risking the criticism of the leaders in speaking out about this," Li said.
Zaw Htay, director of Myanmar President Thein Sein’s office, said that the shells found in that area came from small weapons rather than heavy weapons fired by the Myanmar army.
“The Chinese government hasn’t contacted us officially yet, but as far as I know, basic-level officials have contacted each other, and they have been working on checking the shells,” he said.
Shops hit by gunfire
Businesses in downtown Nansan's No. 8 Road district were also hit by gunfire said to originate from Myanmar government troops, local people and officials said.
An official in charge of border region stability maintenance in the Lincang municipal government, which administers Nansan, confirmed that Chinese authorities are investigating both the explosions and the No. 8 Road gunfire report.
"That's right, there were injuries, and we have already sent people there to deal with the situation," the official said.
Asked whether the Myanmar military was responsible, the official said: "I can't tell you that. This matter is a secret."
He said no one was hurt in the reports of gunfire hitting the No. 8 Road shopping district, however.
"We have received these reports about the situation in No. 8 Road, and we have already sent people there to investigate," the official said.
Asked where the bullets originated, the official replied: "This is still under investigation. It is fortunate that they didn't hurt anyone."
Beijing said it had "taken note" of the reports and is currently investigating.
But China "reserves the right to make further response in light of the verification result," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news conference in Beijing on Friday.
Hua said the incident, if confirmed, won't be the first time.
"Multiple shells fired by the Myanmar side fell into China [during the past three months] and put the life and property security of the Chinese people as well as stability of the China-Myanmar border area in great danger," she said.
"The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction over this."
She said both sides in the Kokang conflict should take action to "cool down the situation."
An official who answered the phone at the Lincang municipal government offices said the authorities there had already formed a task force to deal with the incident.
"The deputy mayor and the county police chief both went down there yesterday evening," the official said. "They have set up a front-line stability maintenance headquarters."
Asked if Nansan was a safe place to be, the official replied: "It should be safe."
Waiting for the PLA to respond
According to Li, local people are still waiting for China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) to respond to the blasts.
He said local people were "terrified" by the incident.
"A lot of people dare not leave their homes and dare not go to work," Li said. "We have had shells landing in Chinese territory many times now."
He said a local armed police vehicle had had also been raked by automatic weapons fire from Myanmar government troops after they stepped up patrols of the border area in recent days.
"They drove away immediately, but the bullets definitely crossed over into Chinese territory," Li said.
"These incidents have happened many times already, without the [Chinese government] dealing with it in a resolute manner," he said.
According to local people, the MNDAA base is too far away from Nansan to have been the source of the shelling, or bombing.
"If the Kokang alliance had the range to hit Nansan, then they'd be better off targeting the Myanmar army," Li said.
Tensions are already running high between China and Myanmar as the Kokang conflict has spilled over the border repeatedly in recent weeks.
Myanmar acknowledged responsibility for a bomb mistakenly dropped in Yunnan province by its Air Force on March 13, killing five Chinese nationals, amid the ongoing conflict between government troops and ethnic rebels in the Kokang region of northeastern Shan state.
China responded to the bombing by mobilizing jet fighters along the border.
The MNDAA launched a bid to retake the rugged and mountainous Kokang region, a corner of Shan state which it had controlled until 2009, beginning on Feb. 9 in the Kokang regional capital Laukkai.
Myanmar's President Thein Sein on Thursday called on the country's parliament to extend martial law in Kokang by a further three months after fierce fighting between Kokang rebels and government troops displaced tens of thousands of civilians, many of whom have sought refuge in China.
The Myanmar government is extending martial law in the region, which was declared shortly after the conflict began.
“Martial law should be extended in the Laukkai region to control the use of illegal weapons and the trade of weapons in the area,” said Lt. Gen. Wai Lwin, the country’s defense minister.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, Wei Ling for the Cantonese Service, and Thin Thiri and Win Ko Ko Lat for the Myanmar Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Khet Mar. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.