The Burmese government on Tuesday declared a state of emergency and martial law in northern Shan State’s restive Kokang Self-Administrated Zone where heavy fighting between government forces and Kokang rebels is continuing.
President Thein Sein on 17 February signed into effect a 90-day state of emergency in the Kokang area, and conferred executive and judicial powers to the commander-in-chief of the Defence Services to “bring back normalcy” to the region.
Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has transferred military administrative authority in the main Kokang town of Laogai [also written Laukkai] to Regional Operations Commander Col. Saw Myint Oo.
In a letter dated 16 February, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) – referred to by the government as “Kokang renegades” – vowed to retake the regional capital and urged President Thein Sein to abandon “Burmese supremacist ideology” and bring about ethnic equality and peace via reconciliation with ethnic armed groups.
DVB VDO: Red Cross convoy attacked
Tun Myat Linn, spokesperson for the MNDAA, told DVB that more than 100 civilians had been killed amid urban fighting in Laogai. He called on the government to end hostilities.
Meanwhile, state-run newspapers on Tuesday reported the president vowing “not to lose an inch of Myanmar’s territory”, saying both the government and military forces “will be carrying out all necessary measures to protect the life and prosperity of people, and to maintain peace, stability, and law and order in the Kokang region.”
The MNDAA, which is allegedly being led by its former chairman, Peng Jiasheng [also written Pheung Kya-shin], maintained a ceasefire with the Burmese military from 1989 until 2009, when Peng was ousted in a Naypyidaw-backed mutiny after refusing a proposal to transform the militia into a Border Guard Force under the Burmese army supervision. Peng has lived in relative obscurity in China for five years, but is now thought to have regained the trust of several Kokang units that were previously loyal to the Burmese military. The MNDAA also has support from ethnic allies, most notably the Ta-ang National Liberation Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) although the latter has sent mixed messages over its commitment to the Kokang. The KIA has been engaged in its own intense conflict with government forces in recent months.
On Tuesday, a Red Cross convoy transporting refugees out of Laogai came under attack, leaving two aid workers injured.
DVB reporter Hkun Zaw Oo, who was riding with the civilian convoy en route to Chinshwehaw, said he was in the lead truck in the convoy when it came under gunfire around 3pm near the village of Parsi.
The attackers were unidentified. Parsi is an area where clashes had occurred in previous days. The Burmese army’s 128th Infantry Battalion subsequently took up positions in the surrounding hills.
“The truck I was riding in was hit by some bullets and came to a stop. The driver took shattered glass in his eye and the passenger next to him, a Red Cross member, was shot in the stomach,” said Hkun Zaw Oo, adding that the two were taken to the hospital in nearby Kunlong town where they were later said to be in stable condition.
“The convoy came under attack as it was heading back to Chinswehaw after picking up refugees from Laogai. It was a civilian convoy and I was riding in the vehicle on point. It was painted blue – all the trucks were flying the Red Cross flag,” said Hkun Zaw Oo.
“There were no soldiers in the convoy and the aid workers were wearing Red Cross uniforms – nothing that made them looked like combatants.”
He said about 120 refugees, including toddlers and the elderly, were among the convoy being transported to Chinshwehaw. All had left Laogai, saying the town was “completely deserted, but for several fires burning”.
“I saw houses on fire and shops looted,” the DVB reporter said. “I also saw three dead bodies just lying in the street.”