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Beijing reached out to the Kokang rebel group the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), with whom government forces have been embroiled in fierce fighting since February, to pressure them to put an end to aggressions, according to the Chinese ambassador to Burma.
The MNDAA this week declared a unilateral ceasefire following four months of fighting in the Kokang Special Region in northern Shan State on the Burma-China border.
Ambassador Yang Houlan told Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in a meeting on 12 June that the Chinese government had made contact with MNDAA leader Peng Jiasheng to seek an end to the hostilities, and request that a political solution be sought, Burmese state-owned Myawady reported on Saturday.
In its 10 June statement, the MNDAA said the decision to declare a ceasefire was taken because of the Chinese government’s relentless calls for stability along the Sino-Burmese border, and to allow Burmese citizens to participate in the upcoming elections. The announcement came just one day after the conclusion of a summit between the leaders of ethnic armed organisations at the Karen rebel headquarters of Law Khee La, a conference which was attended by the MNDAA.
At the meeting on Friday Min Aung Hlaing reportedly praised the strengthened relationship between the two countries, though lamented the “problems caused by some individuals and organizations in border areas”, and requested the ambassador’s assistance in establishing a peaceful and lawful system of border management.
In an interview with Japan’s The Manichi on 9 June, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing said that he had no reason to believe the Chinese government was backing the MNDAA.
“Although one would think that way just by looking at the food, arms and ammunition, and the administrative assistance that they get, or their difficulties being solved and their injured being treated, there is no clear evidence to prove that. This is just what we see.
“I also think that the Chinese government would not be in a situation to help them. But, there might be some kind of assistance coming from same ethnic groups at the local level. I presume it has nothing to do with the government. They [the same ethnic groups] could just do it clandestinely. One cannot say for sure. On our part, we don’t have clear evidence to strongly affirm it. So, it’s pretty hard to say. I think, one can say that this has nothing related to the Chinese government,” the senior general told The Manichi.
Since fighting broke out in the Kokang region in early February, tens of thousands of residents have been displaced, fleeing over the border to China to southwards to the Burmese city of Lashio. Tensions have heightened between Burma and China over the conflict, with Burma offering an apology for the accidental deployment of a bomb over the border on 13 March, which killed five Chinese citizens.
Until the outbreak of hostilities this year, the Kokang Special Region had enjoyed a period of relative peace. The MNDAA, under the leadership of Peng Jiasheng, enjoyed two decades of ceasefire with the government. This calm faltered in 2009 when armed groups came under pressure to transform into a paramilitary Border Guard Force under the control of the Burmese military.