Ongoing fighting between rebel fighters and Myanmar’s army on the Chinese border has dislocated tens of thousands of people and raised tensions between the two countries. But on Wednesday the leader of the rebels denied rumors that he has received help from Chinese citizens or mercenaries. Authorities are trying to play down the tensions.
Ethnic Chinese rebel leader Peng Jiasheng recently launched a fight for control of the Kokang region in northern Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, which is close to China’s southern border in the province of Yunnan.
The fighting, which began on Februrary 9 has already claimed at least 130 lives and tens of thousands have fled across the border, seeking safety in China.
Myanmar has accused Chinese mercenaries of fighting alongside the rebels. It has also asked China to cooperate and prevent what it called “terrorist attacks” from being launched from Chinese territory.
In an interview in the Global Times, which is published by the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, Peng said the participation of Chinese mercenaries would hurt, not help his cause.
Peng said that as soon as Chinese law enforcement authorities found out Chinese citizens are joining the fight, his group of rebels would be under enormous pressure.
Peng told the Global Times that “since the 2009 incident, the Kokang side has strictly forbidden Chinese citizens from entering Kokang to join the MNDAA.”
The MNDAA or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army is made up of remnants of the Chinese-backed guerilla group the Communist Party of Burma, which disbanded in 1989.
The Myanmar military stripped Peng of his control of the Kokang autonomous region in 2009. Since then he has been on the run, until recently returning to try to regain the area as Myanmar seeks a peace accord with ethnic groups and prepares for national elections later this year.
Peng has told Chinese media that while he was on the run, he spent some time in China as well other countries in Southeast Asia.
In Beijing Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei did not answer a question about Peng’s whereabouts over the past few years, or whether he was forced to leave the country.
However, he did deny there was Chinese support for the rebels.
Hong said that China continues to uphold its position and principle of non-interference in other countries affairs. He added that China respects Myanmar’s sovereignty and will not tolerate any individual or group in China that seeks to damage relations between the two countries or stability along the border.
Hong said China continues to provide aid and assistance to refugees who have fled across the border, but did not provide any additional details about how many have fled. He said China has not closed its border, but it has taken steps to manage security in the area where refugees are crossing over into Chinese territory.