Fighting between government and ethnic groups in Burma’s Kokang region crossed into Chinese territory this week, creating tensions between Burma and one of its closest allies and prime foreign investors after a bomb from a Burmese warplane reportedly hit a sugarcane field in the Chinese border city of Lincang, killing four people working there on Friday and wounding nine others.
China condemned the incident and summoned Burma Ambassador Thit Linn Ohn in Beijing.
China’s CCTV news tweeted that China Eastern Airlines canceled flights from Kunming, Yunnan to the Burmese cities of Naypyidaw, Yangon and Mandalay on Friday.
Earlier, another shell fell on a house in southern China’s Yunnan Province, which borders Burma. The building was reportedly destroyed but reports indicate that no one died from that particular bombing. Radio Free Asia said the spill-over fighting caused forest fires, and quoted a local Chinese man saying that several people had died during several days of fighting, and that due to an “information blackout”, “you won’t read about this elsewhere.”
Another resident described “deafening” shelling that “went on for hours.”
Violence between the Burmese army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) began in northern Shan state on Feb. 9. Since then, at least 60,000 refugees are said to have sought safety in Yunnan, according to Channel News Asia. The Chinese government urged Burma to get control of the situation and make sure it doesn’t escalate, and envoys from both countries have been in talks about a solution, Channel News Asia reported.
The Burmese government “accused Chinese mercenaries of fighting with ethnic Chinese rebels against the government in the northern region of Kokang and has sought China’s cooperation to prevent ‘terrorist attacks’ launched from its territory,” according to Channel News Asia.
The website GoKunming suggested that the fighting “could seriously challenge China’s stance of non-interference.”
Those refugees who fled to safety in China reportedly face dire conditions in camps, including shortages of basic medical supplies and food.
Human rights groups have said that the Burmese army killed 100 people in Kokang, including children and the elderly, and burned sugarcane fields that were ready for harvest. The government insists that many of those killed were not civilians, but combatants.
RFA quoted a retired member of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army saying that Chinese volunteers had crossed into Burma to help the rebels in Kokang. However, those who travel from other parts of China are reportedly now being detained to prevent them from entering the fight.
The retired PLA soldier described the situation this way:
“A lot of Chinese people don’t want to see others in trouble, and helping them is like helping ourselves. … You can’t rely on the government. They only serve their own political power. But it worries me that once we go in there, it will mess things up.”