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Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

Min Zaw Oo, director at the Myanmar Peace Center is interviewed by VOA in Yangon, Feb. 26, 2015. (Zinlat Aung/VOA)
Min Zaw Oo, director at the Myanmar Peace Center is interviewed by VOA in Yangon, Feb. 26, 2015. (Zinlat Aung/VOA)

There are ongoing clashes along the Myanmar-China border between Kokang rebels, led by the 85-year-old ethnic Chinese warlord Peng Jiasheng, and Myanmar’s military.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Peng has long been suspected by the United States as a major trafficker of opium and methamphetamines. At least 130 people have been killed in the recent fighting and as many as 100,000 civilians have fled across the border into China. Martial law has been imposed in the region as Myanmar alleges support for the rebellion by entities on the Chinese side of the border.

To gain some insight into the conflict, VOA’s Southeast Asia Bureau Chief, Steve Herman, in Yangon spoke on Thursday with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at the Myanmar Peace Center. He has more than a decade of experience researching counter insurgencies and civil wars and managed a network of more than 600 staff in the field across Afghanistan. Min received a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University.

Herman: There has been a surprising surge in the number of armed rebels under Peng in Kokang - some many thousands - and the introduction of relatively sophisticated weaponry into their hands. What is the extent of known Chinese involvement?

Min Zaw Oo: The involvement might not be Chinese central government policy but of some of the local government officials, even business associates, some individuals who have business interests or political interests might be involved substantially. Otherwise these large amount of weapons and the large number of people recruited in a very short time would not have materialized.

Herman: What response do you anticipate from Beijing now that Myanmar’s government has expressed its concerns to China about alleged Chinese involvement?

Min Zaw Oo: I expect the Chinese government may respond positively to the requests [from Myanmar’s government for cooperation] in a short time. We’re going to see it in a very few days or in weeks.

Herman: A large contingent of Kokang rebels and allied forces are reported to be pinned down at a landmark known as Milepost 23. That appears to leave China as their only escape route, no?

Min Zaw Oo: If the Chinese government stops logistical assistance or, at least, denies entry to China for any reason then we will see that the fight will stop in a very short time in that area.

Herman: What is the actual significance of this resurgence of fighting in an area that has seen internal conflict for decades and is considered a remote and lawless area?

Min Zaw Oo: Our concern is that this conflict in Kokang area may spread to other parts of the country and impact on the peace process - not because of [warlord] Peng Jiasheng but because of the allegation that other armed groups are involved in the fight.