Govt Says More Ethnic Armed Groups Involved in Kokang Conflict

By Aye Aye Win 19 February 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s government on Wednesday accused three more ethnic rebel groups of being involved in armed clashes in northeastern Shan state, where more than a week of fighting against Kokang rebels has left dozens of soldiers dead and sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing to neighboring China.

In an evening announcement, state television said Kokang rebel attacks against government troops were continuing near Laukkai, the capital of the Kokang Special Region. It also accused the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Shan State Army-South and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army of being involved in the fighting. A KIA spokesman denied launching any attacks in the area.

The government on Tuesday announced the imposition of a 90-day state of emergency and military administration for Laukkai, where more than 50 government troops have been killed in combat recently. The declaration of military administration gives the army executive and judicial authority in the region.

The government had previously accused unnamed other groups of involvement, but Wednesday was the first time they were specifically named. The three accused groups have been loosely allied with the Kokang, and the KIA have been engaged in a sporadic though bitter conflict with the government for several years.

The fighting has forced people to flee over the border. Citing government officials, the Chinese state-owned news site Yunnan.cn said Monday that there had been 30,000 border crossings by Burmese nationals over the past week into Yunnan province. Lin Sen, a volunteer helping refugees in Yunnan, said Tuesday that as many as 50,000 refugees may have escaped the Kokang Special Region.

Ethnic minorities, especially in Myanmar’s border areas, have been seeking greater autonomy for decades. The government is hoping to sign a comprehensive peace agreement with all of them next month, but the upsurge in fighting is jeopardizing its chances.

Also on Wednesday, the Burmese Red Cross condemned an attack on volunteers trying to rescue trapped villagers from the strife, saying they were carrying out humanitarian duties and that their vehicles were clearly marked.

A driver and another man were wounded in the ambush Tuesday near Laukkai, an incident the government blamed on the Kokang rebels. The Red Cross did not identify the attackers, but said both of the wounded men had been wearing white vests with the bold Red Cross insignia.

The United Nations’ resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, Renata Dessallien, also voiced concern over the ambush, and appealed to all parties involved in the fighting “to ensure that civilians are protected, and to allow civilians who remain in the conflict zone safe passage out of the Kokang area.”

Kachin Independence Army spokesman La Nan said in an email to The Associated Press that the group did not engage in military operations outside of its home ground in Kachin state.

He also said the government’s imposition of military administration in the Kokang region impacts the peace process immensely.

“The declaration of military administration clearly demonstrates that the government does not accept the culture of negotiation in resolving the problems,” he said. “It also shows that they will totally annihilate ethnic armed groups.”