China did not support armed ethnic Kokang soldiers with weapons during clashes that left 47 government forces dead in northeastern Myanmar’s Shan state, rebel military officers said Friday, rejecting assertions by the government.
The fighting erupted on Monday in Laukkai, capital of the Kokang region in the northern part of Shan state near Myanmar’s border with China, between army troops and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) rebel forces who were trying to retake the Kokang self-administered zone, which the MNDAA had controlled until 2009.
“It's just an accusation by the Myanmar government that the Chinese are backing the armed groups with this and that,” Lieutenant Colonel Ta Po Kyaw, secretary of the Ta-Aung Liberation Army, told RFA’s Burmese Service.
“As far as I know the Kokang has had no such direct help or support from China,” he said.
The rebels fought 13 battles with the army between February 9 and 12 in which five military officers and 42 soldiers lost their lives, and more than 70 others were wounded.
Pho Than Juang, spokesperson of the China-backed guerrilla force the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), also said that it was impossible that China had provided weapons to the Kokang rebels.
The MNDAA was formerly part of the 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.
“It was not in the news, but the Wa [state] has arms factories,” he said. “It looks as though they were transporting from there and selling them.”
The Wa, another armed ethnic group, comprise an unrecognized state in Myanmar that encloses eastern Shan state.
But those weapons had been seized about a week before the clashes between the Kokang group and Myanmar military began, he added.
“China is afraid that if there are battles at the border, weapons might fall into their country. It is afraid that they might fall into the hands of people in the country who are not satisfied,” Pho Than Juang said.
Major General Tun Myint Naing, the commander in chief of the Rakhine Army who fought alongside the Kokang rebels, said the government was trying to undermine the national movement of the Kokang people.
“When the Myanmar military government does something, people will see it as indigenous people killing each other and say, ‘They are killing their own people,’” he said.
“So it's possible that they [the government] are saying this because they want to appear as though they are defending the foreign invaders.
“Also, as far as we know, we have been active along China border for a while. Why would China let anyone affect its sovereignty and welfare? So they mixed up the information so that people would think this way. We can also say that they are trying to undermine the ethnic people's movement.”
Last December, seven soldiers from Myanmar’s military were killed and 20 others wounded in an attack by the MNDAA on an army outpost in Shan state about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the Chinese border.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Than Than Win. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.