Myanmar’s parliament has approved a third 90-day extension of martial law in the country’s Kokang special region near the border with China, in what officials said would likely prevent the war-torn area from taking part in general elections scheduled for Nov. 8.
The President’s Office minister Hla Tun submitted the proposal to parliament on Tuesday, following a written request from President Thein Sein a day earlier, according to state media.
“The President Office released two ordinances Tuesday to extend a state of emergency and a Military Administrative Order in Shan State’s Kokang self-administered zone until 17 November,” the official Global New Light of Myanmar said.
“The region remains unable to return to normalcy in terms of administration, peace and tranquility and rule of law,” the report said, citing the request for extension to parliament.
Martial law gives the military sweeping judicial and administrative powers in the region.
The declaration of a state of emergency replaces one which expired on Monday and was initially made on Feb. 17, after clashes erupted in the region between Myanmar’s army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) near the Kokang capital Laukkai. A three-month extension was granted on May 14.
Tuesday’s extension drew support from 473 lawmakers, with 27 against and 17 abstaining, according to a report by the Irrawaddy online journal.
Ethnic Kokang lawmaker Kyaw Ni Naing told RFA’s Myanmar Service that he supported the proposal because “work must be done on the economic, political and judicial systems in the region.”
The Irrawaddy quoted Hla Shwe, a lawmaker from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), as saying he believed “stability is more important in a region like Kokang than the election,” following the debate in parliament.
The report also cited U Pwint, chair of the Shan State Union Election Commission office, as saying that while it was yet to be determined whether elections will be held in the Kokang region, the commission had compiled voter lists and election preparations were underway in the region’s townships.
Ongoing tensions in Kokang have proved a challenge to Thein Sein’s goal of signing a nationwide cease-fire agreement with the country’s armed ethnic groups ahead of the November elections. The MNDAA declared a unilateral cease-fire in June, but clashes have since been reported.
The Kokang conflict has killed several hundred Myanmar soldiers, and spilled over the border with China in March to claim the lives of Chinese farmers. Reliable figures for casualties are unavailable.
Government negotiators have excluded the MNDAA, and two other armed ethnic forces that fought along with it, from nationwide cease-fire talks, though some of the other ethnic groups negotiating the agreement would like the trio to be included.
The armed ethnic groups are meeting Friday in Chiang Mai in Thailand to discuss the next step in negotiations.
Reported by Win Naung Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.