Myanmar and Kokang rebels are trading accusations over an attack on a Red Cross convoy, one day after the government declared a state of emergency in the northern region.
The government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, released a statement Wednesday accusing Kokang rebels of Tuesday's attack on the Red Cross convoy, which wounded two people.
State media said the seven-car convoy carrying 100 civilians was under a Red Cross flag when it was attacked about 50 kilometers south of Laukkai.
But the rebels, who call themselves the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), deny the charge.
“The Burmese army has controlled the area of Laukkai and Chin Shwe Haw," said MNDAA Spokesperson Tun Myat Lin. "We couldn’t reach the area and so it’s impossible for our troops to make this attack against the Red Cross convoy. I deny the report. MNDAA have strictly ordered its troops only to attack military targets, not civilians.”
The attack has been strongly condemned by Red Cross and United Nations officials.
“According to the Geneva Convention, attacks on civilians in conflict are prohibited. The International Humanitarian Laws also prohibit such attacks. So this attack is a violation of both the Geneva Convention and International Humanitarian Laws," said Khin Maung Hla, Executive Director of Myanmar Red Cross Association.
Renata Dessallien, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, issued a statement calling on all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian staff.
Late Tuesday, President Thein Sein announced a three-month period of martial law in Kokang, an area on the Chinese border that has seen deadly clashes between government troops and ethnic minority rebels. The order gives the army executive and judicial powers in the designated region.
The moves come as civilians in the Kokang region continue to flee the fighting, which has killed at least 50 troops and 26 rebels, according to government figures.
Chinese state media estimated over 30,000 residents of Myanmar have fled across the border into China's Yunnan province over the past week, prompting Beijing to ramp up border controls and call for calm in the region.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.