Air Force Back in Kokang Action Amid Chinese Ire Over Border Bombing

By Lawi Weng 20 March 2015

RANGOON — The Burma Army resumed using fighter jets in its war with Kokang rebels in northeast Burma on Thursday, about one week after a bomb strayed into Chinese territory, killing five Chinese nationals and angering Beijing.

Finger-pointing in the aftermath of the errant bomb on Friday and China’s scrambling of fighter jets to the border had appeared to temporarily ground Burma’s Air Force, but both the government and sources on the ground in the Kokang Special Region reported a return to the skies on Thursday.

Burma’s Ministry of Information said the military had called in air strikes against Kokang troops on Thursday, in a statement that also announced the death of a Burma Army soldier and 30 injured military personnel.

Fighting took place in Khut Tang, about 10 miles southeast of Laukkai, and at Konegyan southeast of the town.

“They used four jet fighters and two highski [helicopters] in fighting yesterday,” said Htun Myat Lin, a spokesperson for the Kokang rebels of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, on Thursday. “We had major fighting yesterday and fighting it broke out today at the same place, and they fired on us with their jet fighters.”

He said about 10 of his troops were wounded in Thursday’s fighting, but no one was killed.

The border bombing last week has brought Sino-Burmese relations to their lowest point in years, with China demanding a full investigation and that “justice” be brought to those responsible. Naypyidaw has denied that the ordnance belonged to the military, claiming Kokang rebels instead may have launched the attack to complicate the situation on the border.

The Ministry of Information said on Thursday that Kokang rebels were using Burma’s rugged and porous border with China to wage a campaign of guerilla warfare against government troops. The Burma Army managed to retake territory on Thursday despite the difficult conditions, the ministry said.

Its report said the Air Force was called in to support ground forces as the government attempts to overrun a handful of mountaintop outposts held by the rebels.

Fighting in the area first erupted on Feb. 9, and scores of soldiers on both sides of the conflict have been killed in the weeks since.

“We are using defensive fighting,” Htun Myat Linn said on Thursday. “We can kill many of them because we are just waiting to shoot when they come.”