Myanmar — Bombs dropped by Myanmar government forces fighting ethnic Kokang rebel troops have triggered forest fires and deaths on the Chinese side of the border with northern Myanmar, local sources said Wednesday.
A resident of the Chinese town of Nansan surnamed Tu said bombs dropped by the Myanmar army had fallen inside Chinese territory in the rugged and mountainous region on at least three occasions in recent days.
“We are in Nansan, and the bombs fell in Mengdui, around 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the border, on the Chinese side,” Tu said in an interview on Wednesday.
“The fighting has continued today, and quite a lot of people have died,” he said. “We have been dealing with some dead bodies recently.”
He said authorities in China had prevented the country’s own tightly controlled media from reporting the incidents.
“There is an information blackout on news from Nansan, so you won’t read about this elsewhere,” Tu said.
Beijing has already warned that it doesn’t want to see an escalation of the fighting that began on Feb. 9 in Laukkai between Myanmar government troops and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) rebel forces.
The MNDAA under ethnic Chinese commander Peng Jiasheng is trying to retake the Kokang self-administered zone, which it had controlled until 2009, forcing an estimated 100,000 refugees away from the conflict zone and across the border into China.
On March 8, a civilian home in Yunnan was hit by shelling from across the border in the rugged and remote Kokang region in Myanmar’s northeastern Shan state, China’s foreign ministry said.
A volunteer aid worker surnamed Zhao said the forest fires caused by bombing late on Wednesday were visible from Nansan.
“They were bombing the top of the mountain, and set fire to the mountain,” Zhao said. “It reached into Chinese territory.”
Fighting between government troops and rebel forces has intensified close to the border in recent days, local residents said.
“The shelling was deafening last night, and bombs were dropped that caused forest fires,” an ethnic Kokang resident surnamed Gu on the Myanmar side told RFA on Thursday.
Gu’s account appeared to confirm rebel-backed online reports saying that two bombs were dropped by Myanmar planes on Mengdui at around 7:00 p.m. local time, as the army engaged the alliance at its position near Shiguolin on the Myanmar side.
“The rebel alliance carried out a sneak attack from behind, and the shelling went on for several hours,” Gu said.
He said rebel forces had pushed the front line back to the outskirts of the regional capital Laukkai.
“There are still a lot of people who support Peng Jiasheng, and the rebel forces have been escorting civilians to safety on the other side of the border,” Gu said.
“But the Myanmar army discriminates against ethnic Kokang people, and some civilians were executed on the streets,” he said, in an apparent reference to executions previously reported by RFA.
Gu said that even life inside the refugee camps was extremely tough on civilians.
“The places they are living in are very basic, and it’s very difficult,” he said. “A lot of people have got sick, and there is a shortage of medical supplies.”
“Basic daily necessities are also in short supply,” Gu said.
Refugees in China
Nansan resident Tu said the refugees on the Chinese side are also running short of supplies.
“There’s not enough grain to feed the refugees who have come to our side of the border,” Tu said. “A lot of people are going hungry.”
He said the Chinese government had provided some relief supplies. “But the grain and supplies they hand out aren’t enough, so that a lot of people are making ramshackle shelters out of sugar cane or trees, and then burning wood gathered from nearby forests to cook their food.”
“A lot of transportation routes have been blocked, and the Chinese government won’t allow individual donations.”
Tu’s account was confirmed by a volunteer aid worker on the Chinese side who asked to remain anonymous.
“The Chinese Red Cross aren’t accepting private donations any more,” the aid worker said.
He said the population of the Qincaigou refugee camp had doubled since the Chinese authorities said they could take 1,000 more refugees, after sending thousands back across the border last week.
Photos of the Qincaigou camp obtained by RFA showed a cluster of makeshift tents with roofs made from plastic and leaves, and beds roughly constructed of bamboo, with large numbers of women and children squatting on the ground.
Distancing from conflict
Beijing has been at pains to distance itself from involvement in the Kokang conflict following tensions with Myanmar’s ruling military junta over the role played by its citizens in supporting the ethnically Chinese Kokang side.
Chinese authorities are detaining anyone who arrives in the border region from elsewhere in China, according to a Sichuan-based retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier surnamed Deng, who said he knew of a number of volunteers who had tried to cross into Kokang from Yunnan to help the rebels.
“There were a few in Kunming, one in Jinghong city, and a few in Nansan, and I haven’t heard from them since they entered [Kokang],” Deng said.
“They came from all over China, but then they lose contact, so I don’t know how they’re doing.”
“A lot of Chinese people don’t want to see others in trouble, and helping them is like helping ourselves,” Deng said.
“You can’t rely on the government. They only serve their own political power,” he said. “But it worries me that once we go in there, it will mess things up.”