Rebels fighting the Myanmar military in northern Kachin State have appealed to China to help them end their standoff with the government.
The Myanmar military entered into the northern region to combat the ethnic army that controls a border area with China. The fighting began on June 9 with a government attack on the Kachin base near an area being developed for a number of hydropower plants.
China has urged the two sides to settle their differences through dialogue. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, “We urge the two sides in the conflict to show restraint, avoid escalating the situation and use peaceful negotiations to resolve the dispute.”
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has asked for China to serve as a mediator and referee the situation, as “without the involvement of another country as a witness, as a facilitator... there is no solution," the KIA press spokesman said.
Chinese government officials have said there is currently no refugee situation on the border between the two nations, and that there is therefore no need for additional humanitarian relief. According to China, the border crossings remain open as usual.
Report & Analysis: Myanmar rebels seek China’s help in clashes [AFP, 17 Jun 2011]
There has been speculation that the military wants to clear the area so that there will not be opposition to the construction of the power plants, which have not been well received by many Kachin. The dissidents claim that 20 people have died in the clashes so far, including government soldiers.
This is the latest in an ongoing effort by the Myanmar military to attempt to pacify many of Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups, many of which control areas along the borders with China and Thailand. Tensions have run particularly high in the past two years, as the government has tried to convince the many ethnic militias to join the Myanmar “border guard” under the direction of the army. This came on the heels of Myanmar’s election in 2010, which the government claimed was a fair, democratic election, while western observers, such as the U.S. have claimed it was not indeed democratic.
Report & Analysis: China urges end to Myanmar strife [Wall Street Journal, 17 Jun 2011]
In 2009, more than 37,000 refugees from Myanmar crossed the border into China as a result of the fighting between the government and Kokang residents. The exodus resulted in China chastising the regime, and asking Myanmar to “properly resolve its domestic disputes” and ensure stability on its side of the border.
In 2010, following the contested elections, fighting broke out between the Myanmar military and ethnic Karen fighters along the border with Thailand; over 15,000 ended up fleeing to Thailand in search of refuge.
China plays an increasingly large role in Myanmar, as much of the country’s northern territory is populated by Chinese citizens involved in the gems trade, who come to the country to flaunt their wealth. Leaders of areas such as Myitkyina state that Chinese make up more than half of the local population, and grassroots resentment is rising. Still, some see China’s influence as a way to counteract the instability along the Chinese-Myanmar border.
Report & Analysis: Chinese takeaway kitchen [The Economist, 9 Jun 2011]