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Myanmar rebels control road to China amid Beijing’s live-fire drills

Opposition mounts against New Zealand over inclusion of junta at prestigious ASEAN meet
Displaced Kachin residents cross the Malikha river on a ferry to escapefighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Myanmar government troops in this April 26, 2018 file photo. This week the KIA claimed control of the last junta outpost along a 60km-stretch of road in Kachin state leading to the frontier with China.

Displaced Kachin residents cross the Malikha river on a ferry to escapefighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Myanmar government troops in this April 26, 2018 file photo. This week the KIA claimed control of the last junta outpost along a 60km-stretch of road in Kachin state leading to the frontier with China. (Photo:AFP)

Published: April 03, 2024 07:48 AM GMT
Updated: April 03, 2024 10:48 AM GMT

China has launched its second and final day of live-fire exercises near its border with Myanmar where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has claimed control of the last junta outpost along a 60km-stretch of road leading to the frontier.

Reports say the KIA had full control of the road from Momauk on April 3 where at least five civilians were killed by a junta airstrike two days ago amid army attempts to halt the advance and protect its last outpost in the area from falling into anti-regime hands.

The road links the strategic military outpost of Sinlum Bum near Momauk and Lwegi town, one of only five trading spots on the Myanmar-China border and its loss was seen as yet another victory by an ethnic armed organization (EAO).

The KIA is one of about 20 EAOs aligned with the Peoples Defence Force (PDF) — the armed wing of the National Unity Government (NUG), Myanmar's government-in-exile.

Since launching its offensive on March 7, the KIA has taken 63 military bases and outposts. However, some observers have suggested that stray artillery shells landing across the border are partly behind Chinese live-fire drills scheduled to end at sunset on April 3.

Five Chinese people were wounded in January amid a fierce fight between the junta and KIA forces, by artillery fire landing in the village of Nansan, which was blamed on the military.

One analyst noted that the timing of the exercise in the prefecture of Dehong Dai was in line with the Chinese military’s training schedule, but added: "It's more likely they are conducting the drills after the Burma [Myanmar] regime’s recent artillery shells landed in Chinese territory near the KIA’s Laiza.”

Laiza is the headquarters for the Kachin Independence Organization and sits in a remote mountainous area of Myanmar’s northern Kachin state, which shares borders with China.

The PDF and EAOs have claimed substantial victories over the junta in the north, east and west of the country since launching a dry season military offensive in November while the NUG continues its push for political recognition abroad.

Opposition is also mounting against New Zealand and its decision to break with diplomatic norms established since the military ousted an elected government in February 2021, and include the junta at two ASEAN meetings to be held in Wellington on April 18-19.

The Myanmar diaspora, community groups and labor movements, and opposition politicians have complained bitterly about the decision made by the conservative government of Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.

Former prime minister, Helen Clark, described the junta as an “internationally reviled” regime, and urged Luxon to refuse visa applications lodged by its representatives who have been banned from previous ASEAN summits.

“Acceptance of the Myanmar junta representatives when the country’s ruling junta has been internationally condemned for crimes against humanity in its ruthless war against its own people and is under severe pressure from the pro-democratic forces in the country, would seriously damage the international reputation of New Zealand,” Clark was quoted by Newsroom as saying.

The invitations also caused an outcry among EAO-PDF troops battling it out against the junta who say they are fighting for the same values that New Zealand espouses: “We watch the news too. Does New Zealand think we don’t exist? We are quite upset,” one PDF soldier told UCA News.

Simon Adams, president of the US-based Center for Victims of Torture, echoed those sentiments.

“New Zealand should not allow Myanmar’s military junta to attend the upcoming meeting in Wellington. They are diplomatic representatives of a corrupt and illegitimate dictatorship that is committing atrocities against their own people,” he said online.

Luxon, however, told Radio New Zealand his position remained unchanged.

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