Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fighting Breaks Out in Kokang Area

Refugees in Burma's Shan State arrive at Nansan town in Zhenkang County in Yunnan Province, China, on August 25. (Photo: Reuters)

The Irrawaddy News

Several skirmishes broke out between the Burmese army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) on Thursday near the Kokang capital, Laogai, in northeast Shan State, as tension between Naypyidaw and the ethnic Kokang ceasefire group boiled over.

The MNDAA, led by Chairman Peng Jiasheng, was reportedly joined in a counteroffensive against the Burmese army by its military allies, National Democratic Alliance Army, also known as the Mong La group, and the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

According to sources on the Sino-Burmese border, gunfire was exchanged between the Burmese army and the ethnic ceasefire groups at three different bases near the Kokang stronghold of Laogai for several hours on Thursday.

The red circle (see arrow) located southeast of Muse on the Sino-Burmese border is the location of tension between junta and Kokang troops. (Map created by Transnational Institute)

The sources said the Kokang troops and their allies took back one base from the Burmese army. No casualties were reported.

“The clashes occurred between the Burmese troops and the Kokang Battalion 7 near Laogai,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese military analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border.

“As far as I know, the Kokang have taken back one of their bases,” he added.

Also on Thursday, gunfire broke out briefly in Yanlon, a town near Laogai, when a unit of MNDAA soldiers encircled a group of Burmese policemen who exchanged fire before escaping to the Chinese side of the border, according to sources on the Sino-Burmese border.

Aung Kyaw Zaw told The Irrawaddy that the Burmese police officers inadvertently shot at each other as they fled over the border.

Another source said that at least one Burmese police officer had died during the clash.

“At least seven policemen fled into China. They were later sent back to the Burmese side by Chinese police,” he said.

The skirmish came after about 1,000 soldiers of the Burmese armed forces, or Tatmadaw, seized the Kokang stronghold of Laogai without a shot being fired on Monday night.

Recent tensions had escalated leading up to the fall of Laogai with a drugs raid on the house of Peng Jiasheng, and a military build-up by the Burmese army in the area.

In recent weeks, an estimated 10,000 Kokang civilians have fled to the Chinese side of the border where they are being temporarily sheltered by Chinese authorities.

MNDAA Chairman Peng Jiasheng, who abandoned his house in Laogai before the Burmese army entered the town, reportedly fled with his troops to the base of his closest ally, the UWSA, from where he released a statement on Thursday urging the Burmese regime to withdraw all its troops from Laogai and seek a peaceful solution to the conflict, said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

But tensions still remain high between the Burmese junta and the ethnic ceasefire groups in northeastern Burma as the Tatmadaw steps up its military maneuvers in the region, he said.

Analysts have said that after if they successfully oust the MNDAA from its stronghold, the Burmese regional military commanders will likely turn their focus to the other ceasefire groups.

“After the Burmese regime has control of the Kokang situation, it will make a move on the Mong La group,” said Saeng Juen, one of the editors of the Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News.

Instead of armed attacks though, the Burmese regime will likely explore alternative methods to break down the ceasefire groups, including the strongest insurgent army, the UWSA, said Saeng Juen.

About 700 Chinese troops have been deployed along the Sino-Burmese border for security reasons, he added.

After the fall of Laogai, several defecting MNDAA leaders were appointed by the Burmese regime as the new Kokang leaders.

However, in his statement, Peng Jiasheng rejected the formation of a new Kokang leadership, saying the new leaders did not represent the Kokang people, said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

Meanwhile, the Burmese authorities have released an arrest warrant for Peng Jiasheng and the commanders loyal to him.

The MNDAA signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese military government in 1989.

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