Nov 26, 2009 (DVB), An offensive by Burmese troops against Kokang rebels in August did not result from its resistance to border guard transformation but from drugs and weapons production, state media said today.
Much of the news surrounding the incident, which forced some 37,000 refugees into China, had focused on the Kokang group's reluctance to transform into a border guard militia, and thus closely ally itself with the ruling junta, prior to the 2010 elections.
The apparent myth was tackled in the New Light of Myanmar newspaper today in an article which claimed that "anti-government radio stations [had] aired many broadcasts with the intention of driving a wedge among national brethren".
The newspaper, which acts as a government mouthpiece and is forbidden to carry material critical of Burma's ruling generals, added that the fighting "did not concern at all" attempts by the junta to transform "national race peace groups, in line with the constitution".
"Kokang national race leaders stuck to dictatorship and warlord system and showed total disregard for the law by manufacturing illegal arms and ammunition and trafficking narcotic drugs on a large scale," it said.
Following the offensive, which lasted into September and ousted the group's leader, Peng Jiasheng, the New Light of Myanmar reported the seizure of 154,000 methamphetamine pills, drug-making equipment and weaponry in a small village in the Kokang region of Burma's northeastern Shan state.
Several of the ceasefire groups, most notably the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), are known to play a key role in Burma's burgeoning narcotics trade. The UWSA controls territory close to the Kokang region.
Many Burma observers have however cited the Kokang conflict as a possible warning of things to come if the junta continues to aggressively pressure ceasefire groups to transform.
To date, only one group, the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K), has officially made the transformation, while the majority of the 17 other prominent ceasefire groups have resisted.
The government claims the move will return the groups, many of which it only holds tenuous truces with, to the 'legal fold' and strengthen the Burmese army's presence in the fragile border regions.
It will also ostensibly give the ruling junta a stronger support base as it begins preparation for the country's first elections in 20 years.
Several Thailand-based refugee groups have voiced concern about a possible wave of refugees crossing the border as tension rises between the government and armed ethnic groups prior to the elections.
Reporting by Francis Wade