Kokang Rebels Deny Link to Chinese Businessman Who Died in Custody

By Lawi Weng 13 March 2015

RANGOON — A Kokang rebel representative has said that an ethnic Chinese businessman who recently died under mysterious circumstances while in custody of the military intelligence agency had no active links with the rebel group.

Hla Win, also known by his Chinese name Li Guoquan, was a 60-year-old businessman based in Rangoon and a former vice chairman of the China-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce. He is said to be the brother-in-law of Peng Deren, the son of Peng Jiasheng, the octogenarian leader of the Kokang rebels known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), which has been involved in heavy fighting with government forces in northern Shan State since Feb. 9.

Htun Myat Lin, MNDAA general-secretary, said the deceased businessman had family links with Peng Deren, but added that he had no political, financial or military involvement with the MNDAA. Htun Myat Lin said that ever since the Burma Army ousted Peng Jiasheng and his men in 2009 and replaced him with a rival to run the Kokang Special Region, Li Guoquan had cut his ties with the rebels.

“Firstly, we want to say we are sad to hear about his death. The military intelligence agency knew he did not have any contact with our group,” Htun Myat Lin said. “We heard that there even more [Chinese] businessmen [in Burma] have been detained, not only him. But, we do not have their names yet and don’t know who they are.”

Li was detained on Feb. 23 and later taken to the Burma Army hospital Rangoon’s Mingalardon Township to receive treatment for a reported a head wound. He died on March 5 after purportedly jumping out of a hospital window, the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) reported on Wednesday.

Only three members from the Kokang Culture Organization in Rangoon were allowed to attend his funeral, SHAN reported.

A Kokang man who was close to Li said he had been in charge of financial matter for Peng Jiasheng who ran the Kokang region until he was forced to flee in 2009. “As far as I know, he did not want to stay under control from the government-appointed Kokang leader [Bai Souqian], and he only wanted to stay with Peng Jiasheng. This could be one reason the military intelligence detained him,” said the man, who declined to be named.

The news has given rise to concerns that he might have been tortured and killed by security officers. The incident has worried the Chinese community in Rangoon, which fears authorities are targeting businessmen because of the ongoing conflict affecting the Kokang, an ethnic Chinese minority living on the Burma-China border.

A woman answering the phone at the China-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy that the organization did not have a spokesperson to talk the media.

The account of Li’s death was broadly confirmed by an officer answering the phone at Rangoon Division Police Station, although the officer declined to be named and was reluctant to provide details.

“As far as we know, authorities provided him with security guards while he was in the hospital. One guard brought him to the toilet, then as soon as he returned and sat on the bed he stood up and jumped of out the window and died,” said the officer.

“He may have had a mental problem as he tried to commit suicide. We do not know whether military intelligence tortured him,” she said when asked whether he had been tortured during interrogation. “We do not know a lot of thing about him; we only opened a case to look for a crime in his death.”