YANGON -- Myanmar authorities have declared a state of martial law in the Kokang region, near the border with China's Yunnan Province, the first such declaration since the country began democratizing in March 2011.
In Kokang's Laukkai township, in war-torn Shan State, fighting has flared up between the government and rebels in the past week. From Feb. 9-12, "13 clashes broke out between the government troops and the Kokang renegade groups, with the former carrying out five airstrikes during the military operations. So far, the fighting has left government forces with 47 dead, 73 wounded and five vehicles destroyed," a state-owned newspaper reported Feb. 13.
Hundreds of civilians in Laukkai have fled to China to escape the fighting.
As tensions escalated following the imposition of a curfew Feb. 12, the government clamped down further, declaring a state of emergency Tuesday.
Heavy fighting between the Myanmar military and a rebel group calling itself the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army began Feb. 9.
The roots of the conflict go back a quarter of a century. Kokang was governed by the Burma Communist Party until it was dissolved in 1989, after which Kokang became a "self-administered region" under the previous military government, eking out a living through gambling and the drug trade.
The rebel group is headed by Phone Kyar Shin, an ethnic Chinese who was ousted from Kokang in 2009 after rival groups defected to the military junta. Clashes began in 2009 after Kokang became a stronghold of Myanmar military units, which raided illegal arms and ammunition factories illegally run by Phone Kyar Shin.
In his first interview in five years, Phone Kyar Shin, 84, in December told the Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by Communist Party mouthpiece The People's Daily, that he and his son have been leading Kokang's National Democratic Alliance Army into battle against the Myanmar armed forces. That followed a government assault on a Kachin military camp on Nov. 19 that killed 23 cadets and left another 16 seriously wounded.
The rebel group issued a statement on Feb. 9 saying, "We will continue to revolt by armed means until we achieve peace [and] equality." The rebels say the central government is trying to strip them of administrative power by force and swallowing the Kokang people.
A spokeman for China's Foreign Ministry said: "We hope that all parties in the Myanmar conflict exercise restraint, and prevent the situation from escalating and affecting the stability of the China-Myanmar border area and security on the Chinese side. China is ready to continue its constructive role in the peace process in Myanmar, in accordance with the wishes of the Myanmar side."