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Radio Free Asia

Myanmar Villagers Destroy Chinese Fence Amid Border Dispute

2021-09-16 -- Residents of Myanmar's northern Shan state have destroyed a fence built by Chinese authorities they say encroaches on their country's territory, prompting observers to warn that if the dispute goes unresolved it could seriously damage relations between communities living along the two nations' shared border.

Chinese officials announced last week that they planned to build a fence along the border near Hat Hin village in northern Shan state's Namkham township to prevent the cross-border transmission of the coronavirus, as well as curb drug and human trafficking. The announcement drew immediate condemnation from area residents, who claimed the barrier would encroach on as much as 0.6 acres of Myanmar territory.

Despite the protest, Chinese authorities proceeded to erect the fence as planned on the evening of Sept. 12, Hat Hin village administrator Lon Ai Sum told RFA's Myanmar Service.

"We had already told them to stop [plans for] construction because it would take away 0.5 to 0.7 acres of our land, and at that time they agreed," he said.

"Then they started erecting the fence without bothering to inform us. The villagers saw them working on it about two hours later and began pulling it down in protest."

Lon Ai Sum said the administrator of Namkham township and other officials visited the area the next day and called for a stop to the construction so that the two governments could negotiate the dispute.

Hat Hin village and Dengxiu village across the border in China's Yunnan province are both ethnic Shan villages that have coexisted peacefully for years. Earlier this year, a drainage canal was dug by the Chinese between the two villages as a border line and a fence was erected on the Chinese side, according to residents.

But Hat Hin villagers said that when they saw Chinese authorities were building the barbed wire barrier past an existing fence and further into Myanmar territory, they became incensed.

Nang San Kham, a resident of Hat Hin, said the land that the Chinese had now expanded into was formerly owned by villagers on the Myanmar side.

"That land was not good for agriculture and so it was left fallow," she said.

"Later on, villagers from the Chinese side came to build fishponds and planted bamboo groves. They didn't listen when our village elders told them not to do it. And now they are claiming it is their land."

Namkham residents, said township land had been at the center of more than one cross-border dispute in recent times.

In 2013, they said, some 20 Chinese men in military uniforms planted a Chinese flag on Myanmar's side of the border near Namkham's Kone Sah village.

Similarly, in October 2019, Shan parties and civil society groups protested what they said was Chinese encroachment on Myanmar territory about 60 feet between Border Posts 57 and 58 near the township's Naung Kham village.

Call for coordination

Sai Khun, a Shan youth leader in Namkham, told RFA that both governments need to coordinate closely to avoid further border disputes.

"China has actually been carrying out a form of border demarcation—it is not good to do that without negotiating with our side," he said.

"We are losing cultivation land. The villagers know what they are talking about as their ancestors have been living here for ages. It hurts not only our villagers but the entire country."

Chinese officials set up an emergency border fence and installed CCTV cameras along the border near Fai Kaung village in Pang Seng sub-township, where fighting between ethnic Kokang forces and Myanmar's military broke out last month, said a Fai Kaung resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He claimed that it was difficult for he and his fellow villagers to access their farmland as a result of the fence.

And last month in Temor, an area controlled by ethnic Kachin State Special Region 1 Militias, local leaders said Chinese authorities similarly attempted to build a fence inside Myanmar territory.

Maung Maung Soe, an ethnic affairs analyst who has lived in the Shweli (Ruili) Valley near the border for several years, said that if the border issue between the two countries is not resolved properly, relations between the two peoples living along the border will be seriously impacted.

"They already know among themselves which land belongs to whom as the area is not very large, so local authorities from both sides … should mark the land properly after negotiations," he said.

"If they do things unilaterally without the consent of the other, affecting local livelihoods and property, it will harm the friendship of the people on both sides."

Attempts by RFA to contact the Chinese Embassy in Yangon went unanswered Wednesday.

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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