After fighting between government forces and rebel groups broke out in the northeast Myanmar border towns of Muse and Kutkai, some Myanmarese fled into Chinese territory. Some media reports placed the number of refugees in the hundreds, and Chinese authorities put it at 3,000. A number of Myanmarese died in this violence, including law enforcement officers, the military, militia fighters and non-combatants.
Government forces are fighting the Kachin Independence Movement which is allied with other anti-government forces including the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in the northeast of Myanmar. Elements of these groups are operating in places like Rakhine, Kokang, and Ta’ang. Sometimes, the media lump them together collectively and describe them as the Shan state rebels. Control over natural resources, tribal assets, forests, and human resources are at stake here. To complicate matters further, the MNDAA was actually an arm of the Communist Party of Burma supported by China in the distant past and it had conflicts with the Myanmar government before breaking up in 1989.
According to media reports, the Kachin are believed to be fighting trench warfare on a hill against government forces. They sleep and fight in humid tropical forest environments and dirt trenches. According to international media reports, government forces are using artillery shelling to flush them out, thus the danger of stray shells slamming into the Chinese border. Mortars are being used by both sides in this conflict. The government forces are also using heavy weapons like fighter bombers and helicopters to strafe the region.
Attrition amongst the Kachin has meant that the rebel group is now recruiting fresh blood for their fight against government forces. Ethnic Kachins who are passionate about their ethnic identity are signing up. The new recruits, both female and male, are undergoing a combat-readiness training program. Some international media carry pictures of these youngsters training in a four-month program in the hills. In terms of political affiliation, the Kachin are more aligned with the National League for Democracy’s ambitions for a federal union. But they are not the only stakeholders, and other parties like the military faction (the Tatmadaw) are also important players.
The timing for the current conflict is unfortunate. The fighting comes just as the Myanmarese government is trying to make peace with the rebel Wa state group. Meanwhile, in the northwestern state of Rakhine, Rohingya Muslims are fleeing into Bangladesh from similar combat taking place between rebels and government forces. Rebels have launched attacks on government outposts, and government forces are searching for militants who apparently have integrated into and may be hiding amongst the Rohingyas.
The Chinese city nearest to the current clashes is Ruili. Supplies are now being delivered to the Chinese side of the border. The border and the city are enduring random shelling that were misfired into Wanding, an important border crossing. A Chinese daily reported that a state-owned structure suffered light physical damage from stray shells. Another casualty is the local economy of the border region, as key access points for trade with China have been blocked due to fighting. Kachin refugees within the Myanmarese border are also experiencing dips in supply to their camps, according to international media reports.
One Chinese citizen has been reported to be injured. Beijing has ordered its military to be on high alert and appealed to all parties to the conflict to show restraint. Beijing has also offered to be a peacemaker, as it does not want a repeat of the 2015 incident when five Chinese citizens were killed in crossfire between the rebels and government troops.