An armed ethnic group battling government troops in Myanmar’s Shan state has denied reports it is recruiting Chinese nationals to serve as mercenaries in its fight to reclaim territory in the country’s remote Kokang border region.
Tun Myat Lin, spokesman for the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) under aging leader Peng Jiasheng, refuted claims by an RFA source earlier this week that the group had been offering a sign-up package to former soldiers demobilized from China's People's Liberation Army (PLA).
“Our Kokang Army MNDAA does not use mercenaries [obtained] from hiring Chinese people,” he said in a statement written in English.
“The Chinese government also would not allow this,” he said, adding that the high cost of recruiting meant that “we cannot afford to hire Chinese people as mercenaries.”
In an accompanying statement, written in Chinese, Tun Myat Lin said the MNDAA had “never recruited people from outside of Myanmar to join our army.”
“We have stressed time and again in our official blog that we do not accept volunteers from China, so why would we use money to hire ‘mercenaries’?"
Tun Myat Lin asserted that government-aligned Kokang region chairman Bai Suocheng—the former deputy commander of the MNDAA—was spreading rumors to undermine support for Peng faction across the border in southwestern China’s Yunnan province.
“Bai Suocheng and other human scum, in order to serve the interests and the plots of the Myanmar military, has fabricated false evidence, and used all kinds of tricks to deceive Chinese friends who sympathize with us, then lured them to areas controlled by Myanmar government troops to be interrogated while under detention,” he said.
“Then photos and recordings [of the interrogations] are used as evidence that China is providing mercenaries to our troops.”
Tun Myat Lin also bristled at the term “rebel group” used by some in the media to describe the MNDAA under Peng, instead referring to it as “an armed militia” carrying out a fight “for the right to survive and the dignity of our [Kokang] people.”
Claim of recruitment drive
On Tuesday, military recruiter Lu Wei told RFA’s Mandarin Service that Chinese mercenaries were being offered 30,000 yuan (U.S. $4,830) to sign up for periods of at least a month with the MNDAA and allied military groups.
Lu, who is based in Yunnan’s Nansan township, said the recruitment drive didn't seem to be working, as not many Chinese were taking up the offer to risk their lives in the conflict.
However, other sources cited strong sympathy for the Kokang cause among China’s military and armed police forces. The people of Kokang are ethnic Han Chinese and speak a dialect of Chinese similar to that spoken across the border in Yunnan province.
The MNDAA on Feb. 9 launched a bid to retake the rugged and mountainous Kokang region, which it had controlled until 2009, beginning in the Kokang regional capital Laukkai.
Tens of thousands of displaced civilians in Kokang and across the Chinese border face worsening conditions and uncertainty over whether cease-fire talks will take place, sources have said.
The MNDAA was formerly part of a China-backed guerrilla force called the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), and became the first of about a dozen factions to sign a bilateral cease-fire agreement with the government after the group broke apart in 1989.
However, the agreement faltered in 2009 when armed groups came under pressure to transform into a paramilitary Border Guard Force under the control of Myanmar’s military—a move the MNDAA resisted.
Bai, who was put in charge of the Kokang army after Peng was deposed following the 2009 Kokang fighting, left the region shortly after Peng's offensive began in February.
Since driving MNDAA forces back from Laukkai, sources say Bai’s son has run plainclothes security operations in the city and maintained police patrols on its streets.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar and Mandarin Services. Translated by Jennifer Chou and Paul Eckert. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.