Fears of a longer Myanmar clash as over 20k flee to China

Children, who had fled with their family from the fighting in Myanmar, reaching for a mobile phone at a relative's home in Baiyan village, near Nansan in Yunnan province, China, last Saturday.
Children, who had fled with their family from the fighting in Myanmar, reaching for a mobile phone at a relative's home in Baiyan village, near Nansan in Yunnan province, China, last Saturday.PHOTO: REUTERS

NANSAN (China) • Within earshot of mortar fire echoing from beyond a ring of hills, a sprawling relief camp in south-western China is swelling steadily after fighting erupted last week between a rebel ethnic army in Myanmar and government troops across the border.

In a recent Reuters visit to the rugged area in south-western Yunnan province, aid workers and those displaced expressed fears of a more violent and protracted conflict than a previous flare-up in the Kokang region in early 2015.

"Every day, more people come," said Ms Li Yinzhong, an aid manager in the camp, gesturing at the mostly Han Chinese refugees from Myanmar's Kokang region.

"We will look after them until they decide they want to go back."

The town, close to the Kokang region of Myanmar's Shan state, is providing refuge for a stream of refugees that the Chinese authorities estimate number more than 20,000.

The town, close to the Kokang region of Myanmar's Shan state, is providing refuge for a stream of refugees that the Chinese authorities estimate number more than 20,000.

The violence is a blow to efforts by Myanmar's de facto leader, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with Myanmar's ethnic minorities.

The conflict is also fraying ties between China and Myanmar, which Beijing has hoped could be a key gateway in its One Belt, One Road strategy to promote economic links between China and Europe.

Kokang has close ties to China. The bulk of residents are ethnic Chinese speaking a Chinese dialect and using the yuan as currency.

The Kokang people began fleeing when the rebel Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) launched a surprise raid on Myanmar police and military targets in the town of Laukkai, resulting in the deaths of 30 people on March 6.

The Myanmar military has launched "56 waves of small and large clashes", using cannons, armoured vehicles and heavy weapons over the past two months, said a statement published by the military on March 6 after the attack.

Rebel forces which lay historic claim to the Kokang region have attacked government troops with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other military hardware.

In an "urgent notice" posted on Sunday on its website, the MNDAA said the Kokang area was now in a "state of war" as fighting worsened.

The fresh unrest comes after fighting in early 2015 and 2009 involving the MNDAA, with both flare-ups displacing tens of thousands of people.

Responding to a question on the situation at a regular press briefing yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said China has lodged "solemn representations" with Myanmar over its citizens put at risk by the conflict.

"We urge all parties in the northern Myanmar conflict to cease fire as quickly as possible. China's Foreign Ministry has reminded Chinese citizens to avoid going to northern Myanmar," she added.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2017, with the headline 'Fears of a longer Myanmar clash as over 20k flee to China'. Print Edition | Subscribe