The Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) claims that the number of its troops has risen to around 5,000 since conflict reignited with Burmese government forces on 9 February.
Tun Myat Linn, a spokesperson for the Kokang rebel militia, said about a thousand civilians from the local ethnic Kokang population in northeastern Shan State have signed up into its ranks in the past few weeks.
“The people support us and they want to join with us, because they have a sense of duty to protect their people and their homeland,” he told DVB.
He said the majority of the new recruits are young men from Laogai [Laukkai] and Konkyan.
At a press conference in Naypyidaw on 21 February, Burmese military spokesmen claimed that former soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army were fighting alongside and providing logistical support to the Kokang rebels, loyal to former chairman Peng Jiasheng [also written Pheung Kya-shin], who has lived in exile in China for some five years.
China and the MNDAA both denied that Chinese mercenaries were fighting alongside Kokang units.
Fighting between the MNDAA and Burmese army appears to have eased this week after a series of intense clashes towards the end of February.
Chinese media reported on Friday that some 4,000 displaced residents had returned this week to the main Kokang town of Laogai “as the situation there has improved”. Citing official government sources, Xinhua said that 2,458 internally displaced persons from around the Kokang region had gone back, while 1,314 had returned home from shelters in Lashio. No mention was made of whether any of the estimated 40,000 Kokang civilians who have sought refuge on the Chinese side of the border have gone back to Laogai or asked to return home.
Meanwhile, a senior Chinese military strategist has been investigated for allegedly leaking state secrets by helping armed Kokang rebels, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.
Maj-Gen Huang Xing is among 14 Chinese generals detained for alleged graft or related crimes over the last two months.