Friday, August 28, 2009

Myanmar fighting forces 10,000 to flee to China

BEIJING (Aug 28, 2009):
Fresh fighting has erupted between Myanmar government forces and an armed ethnic group in the remote northeast, unleashing an exodus of 10,000 residents into neighbouring China, state media said on Friday.

Thousands of people crossed the border this month from Kokang in Myanmar's Shan State after clashes there, which a U.S.-based rights group said followed the deployment of troops in the area, home to a large number of ethnic Chinese.

A news website run by Yunnan (, the Chinese province bordering Myanmar, said fighting flared again on Thursday afternoon, "leading residents from the Myanmar side to panic and flood in large numbers into our territory".

The Yunnan news website said that by Friday morning a total of about 10,000 people had fled into China. They were kept at 7 collection points where they received food and medical care, the report said.

The trouble on the frontier may raise tensions between China and Myanmar, where the military junta looks to Beijing as one of its few diplomatic backers and a crucial source of investment. (For more on their relationship see:)

Kokang, where the trouble erupted, is home to many ethnic Chinese and Chinese nationals, many of whom run businesses and trade across the border.

He Shengda, an expert on the region at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, said the Myanmar government's efforts to impose control on the region risked sparking wider conflict.

"It would be no easy thing for the Myanmar government to rein in local power," He told the Global Times, a Chinese newspaper. "These local militia won't meekly abandon power, and a region that was peaceful may experience turmoil."

Late on Thursday, the Xinhua news agency said the refugee influx continued, citing officials in Yunnan. A Yunnan official told the Global Times, the Chinese newspaper, that most were Myanmar nationals.


The Global Times said the government has ordered stronger security along the border to prevent the conflict spilling into Yunnan.

The Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma has said tensions first flared on Aug. 8 when the Myanmar army deployed hundreds of troops in Kokang, a mostly ethnic Chinese region where rebels have observed a two-decade-old ceasefire with the government. Burma is the former name of Myanmar.

The U.S. group said the mobilisation of troops was a move by the junta to force ethnic groups to form political parties to contest next year's election, the first in Myanmar in 20 years.

Many ethnic groups feel they have nothing to gain from running in the polls and suspect the junta is trying to shackle them, bringing rebel fighters into the army under the command of the Yangon regime.

The Myanmar Peace and Democracy Front (MPDF), an alliance of four ethnic groups, and Chinese media reports have said troops had attacked a factory used by the ethnic groups to repair weapons on suspicion it was being used to produce illicit drugs.

"These special regions have become a timebomb for Myanmar," He, the Chinese expert, told the Global Times. -- Reuters

Updated: 05:08PM Fri, 28 Aug 2009