Thursday, August 13, 2009

China tough with junta on Kokang

Kokang leader Peng Jiasheng

S.H.A.N - China may be backing Naypyitaw when it comes to democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and the over 2,000 political prisoners, but it has taken a tough stance twice in a week when the Burma Army tried to force its will upon one of former communist armies, according to sources on the Sino-Burma border.

On 8 August, it had successfully convinced the Burma Army force that had entered the Kokang territory “without our permission” to carry out inspection on a location suspected to have an arms factory. “Due to China’s intercession, the Burma Army had pulled out,” said a local source.

Three days later on 11 August, Maj-Gen Aung Than Tut, Commander of the Lashio-based Northeastern Region Command, summoned 5 Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), as the Kokang ceasefire group prefers to call itself, to his headquarters. Two were later dispatched to Laogai, the Kokang capital, to persuade its top leader Peng Jiasheng to have an audience with him.

Peng, who had already refused to meet Aung Than Tut on 8 August, did not show up. As a result, the situation that had almost returned to normal on 9 August had tensed up again, triggering people the flee across the border once more.

They were however stopped by the Chinese. “We are doing what we can to ease up the situation,” one border official was quoted as saying. “Of course, we will not refuse admission if bullets start flying. But in the meanwhile, you should trust us and go back.”

Only Chinese citizens were allowed to cross the border, said a source from the border.

The remaining three were allowed to return on the next day, thus somewhat cooling things off. “There isn’t any doubt why the junta backs down,” said a knowledgeable source. “There could even have been a trade-off between Naypyitaw and China: Ditching Suu Kyi in exchange for peace along the border.”

China was the only country that supported Naypyitaw’s decision to continue Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest on 11 August.

The situation nevertheless is still worrisome, according to a Thai-Burma watcher. “The release of the Kokang officials did not resolve the issues between the two sides,” he said. “Naypyitaw still wants Kokang and their allies to become border security battalions under the control of the Burma Army and they keep saying No to it.”

In addition, according to several sources, any fight with Kokang will certainly lead to a full-scale war with its allies, Kachin Independence Army (KIA), United Wa State Army (UWSA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA) and the Shan State Army (SSA) “North”, which amounts to a grand total of 45,000-50,000 strong well armed opposition.

Naypyitaw has fixed October as the deadline for the ceasefire groups to transform themselves into what it terms as Border Guard Forces (BGFs).

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