Fighting has broken out in northern Shan State between Burmese government forces and the Kokang army, or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), according to a report by military-owned Myawady news on Tuesday.
The report said that Kokang troops attacked Burmese army outposts near the town of Mawhtike in the autonomous Kokang Special Region.
Further details are as yet unclear. However, in a notable twist, the former MNDAA leader, Pheung Kya-shin (also written Peng Jiasheng), who was ousted in 2009 and has lived in relative obscurity ever since, appears to have resurfaced and may be commanding a reunited force of Kokang battalions.
Pheung, 84, was interviewed recently by China’s Global Times, and vowed to “keep fighting the Myanmar [Burmese] government until Kokang is recovered.”
Clashes involving small-arms and artillery fire were reported in December between a combined force of the MNDAA, the Kachin Independence Army and the Ta-ang National Liberation Army against Burmese government troops in northern Shan State’s Muse district. It is unclear whether Monday’s hostilities are related to fighting in December.
The Kokang area has been relatively quiet since the ousting of chairman Pheung in 2009 following what became known as the “Kokang Incident”, which was in fact a series of bloody clashes in August of that year in Kokang Special Region. As many as 30,000 Kokang refugees fled across the Chinese border to Yunnan Province to escape the fighting.
Pheung went into exile, allegedly to China, where he settled. An inter-Kokang split saw one faction, led by Deputy Chairman Bai Suoqian, ally with the Burmese army, while others stayed loyal to the MNDAA.
The Kokang Special Region is one of four self-administrating areas. It was established in 1989 and was headed by Pheung since that time. The Kokang people are ethnically Han Chinese. Since its inception, the Kokang Special Region has been widely implicated in illicit drug trade, gambling and other illegal cross-border activities.