Qiao Long and Kyaw Kyaw Aung

Aid workers in Myanmar’s Kokang region near the northeastern border with China cremated large numbers of bodies of civilians in recent days, according to photographs shown to RFA from the scene.

The photos show voluntary workers in rubber gloves disposing of large numbers of dead bodies in civilian clothes, some with their hands bound, and others with missing limbs.  

The photos, many too graphic to publish, emerged amid accusations by Kokang rebel forces that the government is “massacring” unarmed civilians. “In Kokang, these people were killed by the government,” the ethnic Kokang man who showed the photos to RFA said on Wednesday. “They were civilians.”

“The Youth League and the Red Cross cremated the bodies,” the man said. “They were tied up and then shot,” he said. “It was very cruel; they were unarmed civilians.”

He said the majority of killings took place in the town, which he declined to name because he feared for his own security, but some people had also been shot by the Myanmar army in mountain villages nearby.

“I know there were about 70 or 80 people killed [in the town],” the man said. “Taken with those killed in the mountains, it’s about 100 people altogether.” As fighting wears on, civilians are continuing to flee the remote and rugged conflict zone in northeastern Shan state across the border into China’s Yunnan province.

Myanmar’s army is trying to hold the region against the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) rebel forces under ethnic Chinese commander Peng Jiasheng, who is trying to retake the Kokang self-administered zone which it had controlled until 2009.

Government authorities were not immediately available to comment on the allegations that civilians have been killed in large numbers.

Warning of massacres

The Kokang resident’s account, however, was supported by a statement from the MNDAA on Wednesday warning local people of “massacres” of returning refugees being carried out by government troops in disguise.

“On Tuesday, refugees heading back to Laukkai [from the Chinese border] were massacred by government troops masquerading as plainclothes rebel fighters,” the statement said. “Two youths were also killed in secret who refused to dress up as [Kokang] police.”

It said several other people who had traveled back to Laukkai were taken away by government troops and haven’t been seen since. It warned refugees in the border area not to follow anyone back towards Laukkai.

“In recent days, fake Kokang police have been using threats and coercion to force Kokang refugees back from the border area towards Laukkai,” the statement said. “These fake police know very well that the Myanmar army is carrying out large-scale massacres of innocent civilians, yet they don’t hesitate to sacrifice their compatriots in order to help the government whitewash over what happened,” it said.

Competing death tolls

Precise death toll figures from fighting that erupted on February 9 have been hard to obtain, with rebels asserting they’ve killed large numbers of government forces and the government dismissing the claims. The government, which has said that more than 60 troops or police have died, on Tuesday said 72 ethnic rebels had been killed since February 9.

According to the Myanmar government, the Peng and the MNDAA pass freely across the border into China, and Naypyidaw has called on Beijing to prevent “terrorist activities” from being launched from its territory.

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But an MNDAA spokesman told RFA’s Burmese Service on Wednesday that the border is closed to them. “We can’t even enter China,” he said. “If we enter, they arrest us. We are not allowed to get in China.”

He denied government claims that many of the rebel fighters are mercenary soldiers from China, demobilized from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). “That’s not true either,” he said. “We are all ethnic Kokang.”

He also denied that the MNDAA had carried out an on a Red Cross truck traveling to Kunlong township from the capital of the Kokang special region Laukkai on Saturday evening.

“We couldn’t even get close to that area,” the spokesman said. “We heard that there were about 40 trucks and two point trucks.”

“[The government forces] were opening fire with machine-guns along the road. At the same time, our troops were attacked by two helicopters,” he added.

According to Myanmar officials, the MNDAA has been joined by three other ethnic minority armies: the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and part of the Shan State Army (SSA).

But the MNDAA spokesman said the KIA was only “helping” to the west of the Salween River, rather than following the MNDAA forces.

“We all are allies, but only the Arakan Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army are together with us in the fighting,” he said. Some 100,000 refugees from Kokang are already in Yunnan, according to Chinese aid workers’ estimates. Official border crossings are closed, but many people are using mountainous paths to walk across the border undetected, local sources have told RFA.–Asia Times Online