YANGON The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) is among the myriad armed groups that have kept Myanmar in a state of near-perpetual civil war for decades.
The group, which says it is fighting an "anti-oppression and anti-dictatorship" war against the Myanmar military on behalf of the Kokang people in the country's northeast, has refused to disarm or actively participate in the peace process launched by the country's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Reuters reported this week that the MNDAA had raised more than $500,000 over the past two years in donations funnelled through some of China's biggest state and private financial firms after making a "crowdfunding" appeal on its website.
While the predominantly ethnic Chinese group said it underwent a successful opium eradication campaign in 2002, the MNDAA is actively involved in the production and trade of methamphetamine, according to a United Nations anti-narcotics official.
Its founder, Peng Jiasheng, has been identified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as a major trafficker since 1975, according to U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.
The MNDAA is not sanctioned or designated as a terrorist organisation by Washington.
"Once a source of opium, the Kokang's Special Region Number One more recently has been documented as a source of high-quality methamphetamine, to include methamphetamine ICE," wrote U.S. diplomats in the cables in 2009, referring to the MNDAA's territory.
"Peng Jiasheng has also been suspected of trading arms with Indian insurgents along the India-Myanmar border in exchange for precursor chemicals used in the production of both methamphetamine and heroin," say the cables.
During a series of clashes earlier this month, the Myanmar military said 270 people in the capital of Kokang were "abducted" by the MNDAA for forced military training, an allegation the armed group denied.
The MNDAA was formerly part of the Communist Party of Burma, a powerful China-backed guerrilla force that battled the Myanmar government until splintering in 1989.
The group is now part of the Northern Alliance coalition of rebels comprising one of Myanmar's most powerful militias, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and two smaller groups caught in a stand-off with the military since 2015 clashes in the region.
A regional parliament in Myanmar last year approved a proposal to define the coalition as terrorists, but it was later voted down by Suu Kyi's ruling party at the national level.
Fighting between the rebels and the army in 2009 pushed tens of thousands of refugees into China, angering Beijing.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee)