Fighting between ethnically Chinese Kokang rebels and the Burmese military spilled over the border into Yunnan on March 8. China Central Television reports a plane from Myanmar's air force mistakenly dropped bombs on a Chinese village in Gengma County (耿马县), near the prefectural capital of Lincang.
The house of a civilian surnamed Luo was destroyed by one of the bombs, but no casualties or injuries were sustained. Hong Lei, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, confirmed the accident during a March 10 press conference, saying, "The Chinese side has expressed grave concerns to the Myanmar side, asking them to get to the bottom of this incident as soon as possible and take effective measures to ensure that such [an] incident will never happen again."
Indeed, a similar mishap happened two years ago, when three errant mortars fired by Burmese troops exploded in a different Yunnanese village. On that occasion, Burmese troops were fighting against the Kachin Independence Army, which is based in Myanmar's northern Shan State.
On Sunday, the Burmese military's intended target was Kokang guerrillas fighting for the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). A slow-burning civil war between the Kokang and Myanmar's government has been ongoing for decades, and although a ceasefire was agreed to in 1989, hostilities resumed again in 2009.
The most recent flare-up in violence began last year when rebels ambushed and killed seven Burmese soldiers at an outpost along the Chinese border. The conflict has escalated further over the past month, causing at least 10,000 Burmese civilians to flee across the border into Yunnan to escape ongoing airstrikes.
The refugee situation, combined with the accidental bombardment of Chinese territory, has strained already difficult Sino-Burmese relations. Spokesman Hong voiced concern at his press conference, saying:
Conflicts in the Kokang region in northern Myanmar have been raging on for more than a month, disturbing the stability and normal order of China-Myanmar border areas. China once again urges relevant parties to exercise restraint, calm things down on the ground at an early date, and restore peace and stability in northern Myanmar.
Despite Mr Hong's rather moderate tone, an accident such as this could seriously challenge China's stance of non-interference — a cornerstone of Beijing's foreign policy strategy. As journalists writing in The Diplomat recently pointed out, "It may be China's state policy not to get involved, but that doesn't mean individual actors from China are following suit".
Making things more confused, China has been accused by members of the Burmese military of supplying Kokang rebels with weapons and other supplies. The allegations, which were categorically rejected by Beijing, are based in part on historical assumptions. In the past, before the 1989 ceasefire was signed, Chinese officials openly supported the pro-communist MNDAA, who are ethnically Han Chinese and speak Mandarin.
In addition to the official denials emanating from China's capital, Kokang rebels have also disavowed receiving any military support. Nonetheless, Chinese authorities recently launched an investigation into the actions of Huang Xing, a former senior strategist from the People's Liberation Army. He stands accused of corruption and leaking state secrets to Burmese rebels (requires proxy) as long ago as 2009.
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