Burma Red Cross Condemns Convoy Attack, Rebels Deny Responsibility

By Nyein Nyein 18 February 2015

The Burmese Red Cross has called on warring parties in northern Shan State to guarantee the safety of its personnel after two of its volunteers were injured when a convoy carrying dozens of civilians and several journalists was attacked by unknown gunmen in Kokang Special Region on Tuesday.

Representatives of ethnic Kokang and Palaung rebel groups, which are involved in heavy fighting with the Burma Army in the area, denied responsibility for the attack on Wednesday.

A government spokesman, meanwhile, said Naypyidaw would not respond to a letter sent by Kokang rebels calling for an end to the fighting.

Prof. Dr. Tha Hla Shwe, president of the Myanmar Red Cross Society, said in a statement that, “It is very sad to hear that our Red Cross volunteers were wounded while carrying out a strictly humanitarian function to help the victims of fighting. They should be respected and not be made the object of attack.”

A convoy of several trucks with Red Cross flags was travelling from the war-ravaged Kokang Region administrative capital Laukkai with some 100 civilians and several local photographers when it came under gunfire from the surrounding mountainside on Tuesday afternoon.

One volunteer sustained a head wound, while another was hit in the abdomen. The Red Cross said the men, who were both wearing Red Cross vests at the time, were taken to Kunlong Township Hospital, where one underwent surgery overnight. Their medical condition is stable.

“It remains unclear who was responsible for the incident, however the location of the incident was not proximate to Myanmar army units,” the Red Cross said in a statement.

On Wednesday morning, the injured were taken to Lashio Hospital, Khin Maung Hla, secretary general of the Myanmar Red Cross, told The Irrawaddy. “Our volunteers are now communicating with the local authorities in Lashio to gain protection for further rescue work” by the Red Cross, he said.

The Myanmar Journalists Network also issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the attack.

Fighting in Kokang Region in northern Shan State escalated on Feb. 9 and saw Kokang rebels forces attack police and army stations in Laukkai, causing a breakdown of security, damage to buildings and sending civilians fleeing.

Tens of thousands ethnic Kokang fled north across the border into China, while several thousand Burmese day laborers and families of government personnel fled south towards Lashio and Mandalay. The local Red Cross helped the latter group reach safety.

Htun Myat Lin, general-secretary of the Kokang rebel group known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), denied that the group had carried out the attack on the Red Cross convoy.

“The area between Chin Shwe Hal and Laukkai, where the MRCS convoy was fired upon, is a government troops-controlled area,” he told The Irrawaddy.

He said that as many as 100 civilians could have been killed when Burma Army forces entered Laukkai to reestablish control over the town in recent days. Htun Myat Lin added that fighting in the region had calmed down on Wednesday.

Mai Phone Kyaw, as spokesman of Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA), said it was “unconfirmed which group shot at the Red Cross convoy, as the area is under the control of both rebels and government troops.

“We have orders for our troops not to shoot at the civilians,” he said, before adding that the Palaung rebel group was looking into the incident to determine who was responsible.

The TNLA and the Arakan Army are allies of the MNDAA and have been fighting alongside it in the Kokang region.

The government declared martial law for the Kokang Special Region on Tuesday evening, putting the army in charge, while declaring that Laukkai town had been put under full control.

Govt Rejects Kokang Leader’s Appeal

Peng Jiasheng, the leader of the MNDAA, sent an open letter to President Thein Sein on Wednesday in which he appealed for recognition of his group, greater rights for the ethnic Chinese Kokang minority and the start of talks to restore peace in the area.

A 2009 Burma Army offensive took the region without firing shot and forced Peng Jiasheng to flee with several hundred men, after which the army put his Kokang rival Bai Souqian in charge. The recent fighting has been described as an attempt by the octogenarian leader to reestablish a degree of political control in the area.

In his letter, Peng Jiasheng said he “contributed a lot to the Kokang Special Region’s development,” adding that the MNDAA “cannot understand the reasons they were attacked in 2009 and forced to flee their homes. But as one of 135 ethnic groups in Burma, the Kokang also would like to be part of the country and serve it.”

Information Minister Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy in a reaction, however, that the government saw “no reason to consider this” letter. He said Naypyidaw does not recognize the MNDAA and sees it as a “renegade Kokang group,” adding that it neither accepts the group’s participation in the nationwide ceasefire process, which involves 16 ethnic groups, including the TNLA.

Additional reporting by Nang Seng Nom.