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China’s PLA to hold live-fire exercise on Myanmar border as fighting continues

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The Southern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on Tuesday confirmed that its army and navy would take part in the drill, which spokesman Tian Junli said was aimed at testing the forces’ capabilities of “rapid manoeuvre, precise destruction, three-dimensional sealing and control and joint strike”.

“Troops in the theatre are always prepared to respond to various emergencies and resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, border stability and the safety of people’s lives and property,” Tian said, according to a statement on the command’s official WeChat account.

The PLA last conducted live-fire drills in the area in November – weeks after an alliance of three armed groups began a major offensive against the junta in the Kokang region of Shan state, which borders China.

That exercise took place in another border region and was also described as helping the PLA to prepare for “various emergencies” and “safeguard border stability”.

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This type of exercise is rare and the previous one was held in March 2017, weeks after at least 30 people died in an attack by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army on Laukkai, the capital of Kokang region.

That group joined forces with two other rebel groups, the Arakan Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, to form the Three Brotherhood Alliance in 2019. The alliance is now fighting the junta, which overthrew the democratically elected government in February 2021.

In January the alliance gained control of the key town of Laukkai fighting alongside the pro-democracy People’s Defence Force.

Violence since the 2021 coup is estimated to have killed 50,000 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, while more than 2 million people have been displaced in the fighting.

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Foreign vice-minister Sun Weidong visited the country in January to discuss border security and the fight against scammers with the military ruler Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Liu Jingsong, head of the Asian affairs department at the Chinese foreign ministry, also met the Myanmar ambassador last Tuesday to “exchange views on issues of common concern”.

China has also been trying to broker a ceasefire in Shan state, but the most recent one in January collapsed within 24 hours.

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