RANGOON — Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann addressed wounded soldiers in Shan State’s Lashio on Saturday, making a public appeal for rebels in northeastern Burma to immediately disarm.
The Speaker warned that the fighting in Kokang Special Region—a small ethnically Chinese area along the Sino-Burmese border—was costing lives and government funds, claiming it could only be stopped if rebel soldiers stood down.
Though the Speaker was addressing wounded Burma Army soldiers in a military hospital, he appealed to the Kokang armed forces, known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), to avoid more government casualties.
“If fighting continues, there will be more lives sacrificed for the protection of our country, and more finances that we will have to spend on it,” Shwe Mann said. “We want to ask the [MNDAA] armed group to disarm and make peace, because our country is going to have an election soon.”
The speaker urged Burma Army soldiers to uphold their support for the war, adding that “the current fight in Kokang is a fight for justice, and the people in Burma support the Tatmadaw [Burma’s Armed Forces] in this fight.”
Conflict between the Burma Army and the MNDAA broke out on Feb. 9 in Kokang’s administrative capital Laukkai, the former rebel headquarters until the group’s aging leader, Peng Jiasheng, was ousted by the Burmese government in 2009.
The ensuing conflict—during which the MNDAA attempted to reclaim its former headquarters and surrounding hilltops—was the fiercest seen in Burma for years. Some independent reports claim that it has been the deadliest and most expensive conflict in the country since its independence in 1948.
Government figures account for at least 200 deaths—which include Burmese and rebel soldiers—though independent figures have offered much higher estimates.
A government-issued media gag order on rebel-affiliated sources has made casualties impossible to independently verify, though military journal Jane’s Defense Weekly recently claimed that as many as 800 Burmese soldiers may have died in the conflict since early February.
Tens of thousands of civilians were also displaced by the conflict, though small groups of civil servants have since begun to return to Laukkai.
The ongoing conflict disrupted efforts to reach a nationwide ceasefire accord, which negotiators from the government and the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups had been working toward over the past three years.
Cross-border blasts also aggravated tensions with Burma’s giant neighbor; five people died when artillery shells landed in a Chinese village near the border in March, and a similar incident left five others injured earlier this month. The Burma Army has denied responsibility for both incidents.