“Up to 10,000 Myanmar refugees seek refuge in China”

Reuters reports that refugees from the fighting in northern Myanmar are spilling into Yunnan:

Up to 10,000 refugees have fled to an area in southwestern Yunnan province, driven by fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the country’s most powerful rebel groups, five aid groups told Reuters. Many of the refugeees are women, children and elderly people.

Fighting erupted after a 17-year-old ceasefire broke down last June, sending ethnic Kachins fleeing to the border area.

Although the intensity of the fighting has eased, aid groups fear that more people will flee and exacerbate dire conditions. The Chinese government tolerates the camps, but does not officially recognise their existence.

The risk of fighting spreading across the highly militarised border region and of the arrival of new waves of refugees are particular worries for China’s stability-obsessed rulers.

Although long wary of poor, unstable Myanmar, China has invested heavily in the country. It has brushed off Western sanctions to build infrastructure, hydropower dams and twin oil-and-gas pipelines to help feed southern China’s growing energy needs and avoid the Malacca Strait shipping bottleneck.

Yunnan provincial authorities have told the refugees to leave, but have not threatened force or sealed the border, aid groups said.

“It poses a dilemma for the Chinese; it could cause strained relations with the Burmese government if they are seen as being supportive of the Kachin Independence Army, KIA, and by extension the refugees,” Bertil Lintner, a Myanmar expert, said in emailed comments.

“On the other hand, they can’t be too hostile to the Kachins, and the Kachin refugees, either.”

“At the moment, what we know is that there is no such situation,” Li Hui, director of the Yunnan information office, told Reuters. “Everything is normal on the China-Myanmar border.”

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Filed under Chinese foreign policy, Myanmar, refugees

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