June 11, 2015 / 8:58 AM / 5 years ago

Under pressure from China, Kokang rebels declare Myanmar ceasefire

YANGON (Reuters) - An ethnic Chinese rebel group that has been battling the Myanmar military on the border with China has announced a unilateral ceasefire, the group said on Thursday, after coming under pressure from Beijing to end four months of intense fighting.

Rebel soldiers of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) examine weapons and ammunition at a military base in Kokang region in this March 10, 2015 file photo.REUTERS/Stringer/Files

The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), which is led by ethnic Chinese commander Peng Jiasheng, said in a statement that the ceasefire began on Wednesday.

“The Chinese government’s strong calls for restoring peace in the China-Myanmar border region,” was one of the reasons for the decision, the statement said. The statement was authenticated by MNDAA spokesman Tun Myint Naing.

The MNDAA was formed from remnants of the Communist Party of Burma, a powerful China-backed guerrilla force that battled the Myanmar government until it splintered in 1989.

The group also said Myanmar’s coming election, scheduled for November, and the country’s democratization process were reasons to try to bring an end to the fighting, but added that the group maintains its “right to protect ourselves”.

Ye Htut, Minister of Information and spokesman for the president’s office, said on Thursday that the government was aware of the announcement from the MNDAA but remained skeptical.

“We are monitoring their actual activity on the ground,” he said.

The MNDAA struck a truce with the government which lasted until 2009, when government troops took over their region in a conflict that pushed tens of thousands of refugees into China’s Yunnan province which lies next to Myanmar’s Kokang region.

Fighting intensified in early February, dealing a setback to Myanmar’s semi-civilian government which took power in 2011 after 49 years of military rule.

The Chinese army announced earlier this month it would stage drills military drills along a part of the border with Myanmar where shells have fallen during fighting between the Myanmar government and the rebels.

President Thein Sein has sought to reach a nationwide peace agreement with the country’s many armed ethnic groups but has been unsuccessful.

China has attempted to reach out to the country’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy is expected to do well in November’s general election.

She departed for Beijing on Wednesday and is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang during her visit, which ends on June 14.

Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin and Hnin Yadana Zaw; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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