Local Committee Defuses Border Row Between Muse Residents, Chinese Villagers

By Nyein Nyein 21 September 2018

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – District-level officials this week reached a temporary settlement in a dispute over the boundary between Myanmar and China on the Ruli River near northern Shan State’s Muse Township.

The agreement was negotiated by a district-level boundary committee. The dispute erupted after Chinese villagers put up a fence nearly 30 meters inside Myanmar in Hpai Kawng village near Pang Sai Kyukote sub-township in Muse on Wednesday. When Myanmar villagers complained, the Chinese stopped the activity and took down the fencing materials.

Kachin News Group first reported the story and uploaded a video showing the fence being constructed. The video quickly went viral. Kachin News’ report quoted locals as saying this is not the first such dispute; squabbles over the location of the border have simmered on and off since 2008.

The fencing activity was halted at around 5 pm on Wednesday after villagers in Hpai Kawng objected, said Sai Poe Myat, a Lower House lawmaker representing Muse constituency.

He told The Irrawaddy, “The border boundary pillars are there already as demarcated; they should not be removed by one side, but as we saw on the social media post, it was the Chinese who tried to move the pillars and redraw the boundary.”

Local residents lack knowledge about official negotiations relating to the boundary, he added.

Asked about official efforts on border demarcation, government spokesman U Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy on Friday at a regular press briefing at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw that, “We heard that the district-level committee had settled the dispute, [marking the] boundary [in the middle of] the waterway.”

Boundary disputes that cannot be settled at the district level are referred to the ministerial level. In such cases, officials consult technical experts who travel to the areas and conduct surveys in accordance with the bilateral agreements between the two countries.

Parts of the Myanmar-China border near Muse are demarcated in the middle of the Ruli (Shweli) River. A director general at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) explained that such disputes emerge often. They are normally settled quickly, as the China-Myanmar border is fully demarcated, the official said.

“Disputes are more frequent over boundaries on waterways than over inland boundaries, because sometimes river currents cause changes or sediments build up. Local residents may be unaware and begin farming or putting up fences on the newly created land. It happens all the time with residents of both countries,” said U Soe Han, the director general of the MOFA’s Political Department and also a ministry spokesman.

He added that the ministry was in constant communication with the Chinese Embassy.

The Irrawaddy tried to contact to the MOFA’s Boundary Department spokesman for details, but the official could not be reached.