Myanmar’s armed ethnic Kokang group declared a unilateral cease-fire with Myanmar forces on Thursday in a bid to end four months of hostilities with the national army along the Chinese border to bring stability to the region and prevent the clashes from disrupting general elections scheduled for later this year, an official with the group said.
“We have declared that we will not launch an offensive because people have been suffering over four months because of the war,” Tun Myat Linn, spokesman for the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Kokang army, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We are also concerned that the war could harm the general election. But, if they [government troops] attack us, we will have to fight back,” he said, describing the MNDAA’s stance as “defensive.”
The fighting, which started in northern Shan state in February, has resulted in hundreds of deaths and displaced tens of thousands of residents, many of whom fled over the border into China.
“The Chinese government wants stability in the Kokang-China border area, and it has said this often in the media,” Tun Myat Linn said. “It is a reason that we have declared this announcement.”
The fighting had spilled over into China in March when Myanmar’s air force dropped bombs killing several farmers and prompting China to put pressure on the country to end the clashes.
There is speculation in Myanmar that the cease-fire was in part motivated by Beijing, which is hosting Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week and wanted to remove an irritant in relations.
“It is impossible to exchange weapons and have peace right now,” Tun Myat Linn said. “We need to take time to do it. If the government recognizes the MNDAA and offers to discuss peace with us after ending the war, it’s possible, I guess.”
The hostilities have thrown a wrench into President Thein Sein’s push for a nationwide cease-fire agreement with all the country’s armed ethnic groups to end decades of civil wars before the general elections in November.
Last week, Myanmar’s Union Election Commission named the Kokang region, which is under martial law, as one of three unstable territories, including the Wa and Mong La areas that also border China, according to a report in the online journal The Irrawaddy. The commission said holding elections in the areas would be difficult because government workers could not move freely.
The unilateral cease-fire, announced by the MNDAA’s ethnic Chinese commander Peng Jiaxiang, came on the heels of an ethnic leadership summit to discuss the nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA).
Although the MNDAA belongs to the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) coalition of 16 armed ethnic groups that are involved in the peace talks, the government does not recognize it as such.
“We welcome the MNDAA’s announcement, but it is better to have discussions with both the government and the MNDAA,” said Kyaw Ni Naing, an ethic Kokang and ruling Union party lawmaker who represents Laukkai township in northern Shan state. “I don’t know if the military accept the MNDAA’s offer to discuss peace, but the president has offered to exchange weapons and forge peace.”
There was no immediate reaction by the government to the unilateral cease-fire declaration. A cabinet assistant declined to comment when contacted by RFA by telephone in the Myanmar capital.
Reported by Zin Mar Win and Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.