Fighting intensified over the weekend amid a major offensive against ethnic Kokang insurgents in northeast Myanmar near the Chinese border, amid reports that more Myanmar government shells have fallen on the Chinese side of the border near Nansan, local residents said on Monday.
"The fighting carried on into the night last night, with shelling going on after it got dark," an ethnic Kokang resident on the outskirts of the regional capital Laukkai told RFA.
"[On Sunday, some shells] landed on the Chinese side of the border," he said. "The People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers are hugging the southern side of the hills there, but they dare not go to investigate the shelling, because they are worried about getting wounded in the crossfire."
He added: "After we had breakfast this morning, we heard some more shelling, and an aircraft came."
Myanmar's national army recently launched an offensive against the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), which launched a bid to retake the rugged and mountainous region of Shan State on Feb. 9, after losing a similar regional conflict in 2009.
“The Myanmar military has announced that the Kokang region is totally occupied by the military, but the fighting is still going on, a local resident who lives along the Myanmar-China border told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“There was fighting the whole day yesterday and that fighting was the worst one yet,” he said.
Nearly 130 soldiers from the government army have been killed and about 360 injured, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported.
On the Chinese side of the border, residents of Nansan township in the southwestern province of Yunnan said they could hear continual shelling since the fighting intensified.
"The fighting got extremely fierce last night, and we could hear the shelling into the night from our homes on the top of the hill," a Nansan resident said on Monday.
"But if any of the shells fell on the Chinese side of the border in Nansan, the government isn't saying," she said. "We were all very frightened during the whole of yesterday."
"The noise was really loud, and a lot of people had gathered on the square [in Nansan], and we could see thick smoke, and flashes, as well as aircraft," the woman said.
She said none of the aircraft spotted by local people had been Chinese, however.
"There were military planes flying back and forth all day ... I think the military is very worried right now," she said.
"There aren't many soldiers around on the streets now, so I'm guessing they have all gone to the border area to await orders," she said.
Frequent helicopter patrols
A second Nansan resident said Chinese helicopter patrols were very frequent before the shelling intensified at the weekend, however.
"We are pretty confident that the Chinese army is able to protect us," the resident said.
Back in the regional capital of Laukkai, residents said the city has once more been deserted by local people seeking refuge on the Chinese side of the border.
An estimated 100,000 refugees have poured across the border into Yunnan at various times since the fighting began, but face limited food and supplies in refugee camps, which are increasingly turning away new arrivals.
A Kokang resident familiar said the recent closure of the No. 125 Border Marker refugee camp had left thousands of people with nowhere to go.
Many were forced to pay for accommodation in Yunnan, to avoid being moved on by the Chinese government, he said.
"You can't get away with it unless you live separately [from the other refugees]," he said. "Some of the elderly and the sick are able to get help, mostly from non-government sources."
"Not many people go to the government camps, because there's no freedom there, and they just dole out two bowls of rice to people from a big vat every day," he said.
A volunteer on the Chinese side of the border said there are currently an estimated 60,000 refugees from Kokang in Yunnan.
"But there are no official figures," the volunteer said. "These are all just estimates."
"The refugees come and go all the time, so they could be in one place today and another place tomorrow."
Frequent road closures into China have also made life harder for civilians fleeing the fighting.
"They are always closing the roads these days, if the fighting gets particularly fierce," a Nansan resident who frequently crosses the border said on Monday. "We have to use the hill paths if we want to get back to Nansan; there's no normal traffic allowed."
"I think they are afraid that there will be civilian casualties if a shell falls on us by accident."
War refugees to return home
Some 4,500 residents and migrant workers from the Kokang region in northern Shan State also fled south to Lashio, the largest town in the state, last week to escape the fighting between army troops and ethnic Kokang rebels, The Irrawaddy online journal reported.
But the Kokang Region Rehabilitation Support Committee, a government organization, will call them back to Laukkai township, the Kokang capital, on Tuesday, including about 150 refugees from a monastery, said Kyaw Ni Naing, a member of the group.
“If they are OK to stay in their homes, then we will send them to their homes,” he said. “If not, we will send them to a refugee camp at the No. (1) High School in Laukkai. Many security forces are deployed between Laukkai and Chin Shwe Haw [Kokang base].”
The fighting continues as the Myanmar government tries to broker a nationwide peace deal with around a dozen armed ethnic groups, except for the Kokang, to end decades of fighting.
In a bid to make headway on a nationwide ceasefire pact, ethnic army leaders will hold a summit on May 1-3 in the Wa autonomous zone at United Wa State headquarters in Pangsang, according to a report by Democratic Voice of Burma.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and Tin Aung Khine and Pyone Moh Moh Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.