2012-02-02 (China Military News cited from ft.com and by Gwen Robinson and Kathrin Hille) — Tens of thousands of refugees from Myanmar have fled north across the Chinese border in recent weeks, driven by escalating fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), according to aid workers in China’s Yunnan province.
The growing wave of refugees highlights a decades-old conflict between ethnic Kachin rebels and the army that diplomats see as a blight on efforts by Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government to bring Myanmar out of international isolation.Both the US and European Union have set the resolution of conflict with ethnic militias as a condition for lifting sanctions against Myanmar. For decades, the conflict has driven hundreds of thousands of villagers from their homes amid claims of military abuses including rape, forced labour and torture.
The government signed a preliminary ceasefire deal with ethnic Karen rebels in mid-January, and similar agreements have been reached with Shan, Chin and other ethnic rebel groups.
But repeated attempts at talks with the KIA have been derailed by persistent fighting, despite Mr Thein Sein ordering the army in early December to cease hostilities. Military commanders said they were defending themselves against Kachin offensives. Kachin representatives said KIA bases and surrounding areas were attacked without provocation.
A Kachin representative who works with refugees on the Myanmar-China border said on Tuesday fighting had ceased but neither side had pulled back their forces, which meant that “refugees cannot yet return”.
Chinese aid workers said the number of refugees had “greatly increased”. “Since January 1, armed conflict in the Kachin area has led about 40,000 refugees to roam along the Chinese border, 25,000 have already crossed the border and are seeking shelter in Yunnan,” the Central Western Missionary Prayer Fellowship, an unofficial church in China that is providing relief services for refugees, said.
Tao Meisi, an aid worker in Yingjiang county on the Myanmar border, said there were about 40,000 refugees in the area, including 20,000 people in Yingjiang alone.