YANGON: The new leader of the Kokang ethnic group has said it will participate in Myanmar elections next year, the first in nearly two decades.
Phe Sauk Chen, appointed head of the newly formed Kokang Region Provisional Leading Committee after the former leaders fled following a skirmish with government troops, said on Tuesday that his group also agreed to join the nation's border security guards.
The issue of whether to take part in national elections has been a point of contention among ethnic groups, which are being asked to put down their weapons.
So far, the Kachin Independence Organization is the only other ethnic group that has agreed to take part in the elections. Larger ethnic groups like the Wa, which has a militia estimated at over 20,000 fighters, have so far resisted. Critics say the elections are designed to cement the military's grip on power. Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962.
The Kokang were the first among 17 armed ethnic groups to reach a peace agreement with the government in March 1989.
Early last month, Myanmar troops seized an illegal arms factory in the Kokang region, triggering several days of clashes with Kokang ethnic militia that sent more than 30,000 refugees fleeing across the border into China.
Myanmar's military secured the northeastern region of Kokang late last month and thousands of refugees have since returned to their homes.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu yesterday reaffirmed China's non-involvement policy in Myanmar's internal affairs. Jiang was responding to reports that Myanmar's action to send troops to Kokang region was based on China's information.