Myanmar Blames Bombing in China on ‘Ethnic Group,’ Not ArmyKyaw Thu and Chris Blake
Myanmar’s air force never entered Chinese territory and an “ethnic group” is responsible for a bomb that killed five farmers inside China, a government spokesman said.
“We checked with the military,” said Zaw Htay, director of the office of President Thein Sein. “Based on the data and GPS, our planes did not enter Chinese territory. Ground data showed we did not enter China territory.”
People’s Liberation Army jets flew several sorties to monitor Myanmar military aircraft close to the border after the bombing on March 13, Colonel Shen Jinke, a spokesman, said in a statement Saturday. China also lodged a formal protest with Myanmar’s ambassador, Thit Linn Ohn, on Friday evening.
The bombing came amid an escalating conflict between Myanmar’s government and rebels from the Kokang minority, made up of ethnic Chinese people residing in the Southeast Asian nation’s northern Shan State. Myanmar’s government has accused some rebels of taking refuge across the nearby border with China and called for Beijing to arrest and return them.
“The insurgents are maybe perhaps targeting the stability of the border areas to damage the relationship between Myanmar and China,” Myanmar Defense Minister Wai Lwin told reporters Monday after a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense minsters in Langkawi, Malaysia.
Myanmar has sought to reduce its reliance on China since relations with the West improved after a quasi-civilian government won elections in 2011, ending a half-century of direct military rule. After taking office, Thein Sein, a former general, halted work on some key joint projects, including the $3.6 billion Myitsone hydropower dam across the Irrawaddy River.
He said the project, being built with China Power Investment Corp., was against the “will of the people.” China Power called the decision “bewildering” and said it would hold talks with the government to resume the project.
Despite such moves, China remains Myanmar’s largest trading partner, with total trade valued at $10.9 billion in 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The military’s clashes with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, a Kokang rebel force that is one of several ethnic armies pushing for greater autonomy or independence from the central government, has added to the strain with China.
The group is an off-shoot of the Communist Party of Burma, and after a two-decade-old cease-fire was broken in a 2009 government assault, some of the rebels are thought to have fled to China. Fighting between the two sides began again last month, with dozens killed, prompting the government to impose martial law and declare a state of emergency in the area.
More than 60,000 Myanmar refugees have fled to neighboring Yunnan in China, where temporary shelters are provided by the local government, China Daily reported March 7 on Weibo. The Myanmar government has signaled that the militia’s leader, Peng Jiasheng, may have also crossed the border and has called on the government in Beijing to arrest him and his followers and return them to Myanmar.
Following the deaths of the farmers, China’s ambassador to Myanmar, Yang Houlan, met the commander in chief of Myanmar’s army, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham on Saturday to discuss the situation, Zaw Htay said.
‘Find the Truth’
“We are ready to cooperate to find out the truth,” Zaw Htay said, blaming the attack on an unidentified “ethnic group.” He said checking the remains of the weapons used would prove that the bomb didn’t come from the Myanmar air force.
“We would like to express our deep sorrow for death and injuries of Chinese nationals,” Myanmar’s government said in a statement published in Monday’s state-run Global New Light of Myanmar. It added that the two sides are operating closely through diplomatic and military channels to maintain peace on their shared border.
“We have responsibility and the capacity to firmly safeguard stability in the border areas between the two countries and to protect the life and property of our people,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said yesterday in Beijing.
The incident was unlikely to have a lasting impact on bilateral relations between the two countries, said Hla Maung, a retired Myanmar diplomat and economist.
“I think there is a misunderstanding,” he said. “I think the problem can be solved if both sides jointly visit the area.”