'Crisis' in Yunnan's Refugee Camps as Chinese Police Block Supplies

china-children-kokang-camp-march2-2015.jpg Children from the Kokang fighting gather at a refugee camp on the border between China and Myanmar, March 2, 2015.
(Photo courtesy of a Kokang volunteer)

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan are preventing food supplies from reaching refugee camps packed with ethnic Kokang civilians fleeing the fighting across the border in Myanmar between government troops and rebel forces, local sources told RFA on Tuesday.

The blockade has sparked a crisis in some camps, where food is already running out, as well as the deaths of two people who were unable to seek emergency medical help, refugees and volunteers said.

A refugee who declined to be named said local security personnel have sealed off the roads leading to a camp in the border town of Maidihe.

"There is a huge crisis at the refugee camp at the moment, because the government and armed police have sealed off all the roads," the refugee said.

"They are stopping anyone from taking relief supplies and medicines to the camps," he said.

He said the roadblocks had already led to the deaths of an elderly person and a pregnant woman who were unable to seek emergency medical care when they needed it.

A volunteer at the No. 125 refugee camp surnamed Zhao confirmed the refugee's account, suggesting the ban affects other refugee camps on the Chinese side of the border.

"The Chinese side won't let us [take food and supplies any more]," Zhao said. "That has all stopped."

Pregnant woman dies

He said the pregnant woman had died at the refugee camp in Maidihe after giving birth amid complications.

"They won't allow the doctor at Maidihe to live on site," Zhao said, adding that some of the volunteer doctors in the camp had traveled from Yangon to help out.

A volunteer at Maidihe refugee camp who asked to remain anonymous said an infant had also needed emergency medical care on Tuesday.

"There was a two-month-old baby who lost consciousness, and needed to go to the Chinese side, but nobody would cooperate," the volunteer said.

He said the Maidihe camp is now unable to receive grain shipments by truck.

"The thing is that they're blocking the trucks that bring grain here for us. This is a very serious problem," he said.

"As of 9.00 a.m. [on Tuesday], we had handed out the last of our rice," he said. "Now we are just waiting for the hunger to hit us."

Refugees from the Kokang fighting gather at a refugee camp on the border between China and Myanmar, March 2, 2015.
Refugees from the Kokang fighting gather at a refugee camp on the border between China and Myanmar, March 2, 2015.
(Photo courtesy of a Kokang volunteer)
Ban on Myanmar cars

Meanwhile, police in Dehong have issued an order banning vehicles with Myanmar registration plates from driving on roads on the Chinese side of the border.

Police in Yunnan's Dehong autonomous prefecture issued the ban on Myanmar-licensed vehicles on Monday, saying vehicles that broke the ban would be impounded, local residents said.

The ban also applies to the vehicles of refugees at the No. 125 refugee camp within China's borders, which had been parked at the camp since being driven there to escape the fighting, they said.

More than 100,000 refugees are now encamped in tents and makeshift public buildings after taking refuge across the border from the fighting, according to estimates from Chinese aid workers.

Myanmar has declared a state of emergency in the region in response to the conflict, and called on Beijing to prevent rebels from using its territory to launch "terrorist activities."

A Kokang resident surnamed Zhang said shelling and gunfire had continued on Tuesday in the rugged and remote mountainous region of Shan State.

"It went on from yesterday evening to this morning, until about 6.00 a.m.," Zhang said. "We hear artillery fire and gunfire every half hour or so."

Camp hit by earthquake

A woman refugee also surnamed Zhang said some refugees had been further shaken by a 5.5 Richter scale earthquake near Yunnan's Lincang city on Sunday.

"We spent last night sleeping at the side of the road," she said. "We didn't dare to go back to sleep in those buildings in the refugee camp, because we were afraid they would collapse."

"Everything was swaying and shaking about, so the refugees were all very frightened," she added.

Some 20,000 people were made homeless in the earthquake, which destroyed 3,700 homes in Cangyuan and Gengma counties, the Lincang municipal government said on its official website.

She said conditions are worsening in the camps, especially for the more recent arrivals.

"The refugees that are coming over [to Yunnan] now are all staying in closely packed tents, and they are dependent on volunteer teams who also came over from Kokang," Zhang said.

Fighting began on Feb. 9 in Laukkai, capital of the special region of Kokang near Myanmar's border with China, between army troops and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) rebel forces.

The MNDAA under ethnic Chinese commander Peng Jiasheng are trying to retake the Kokang self-administered zone, which it had controlled until 2009, forcing a wave of refugees away from the conflict zone and across the border into China.

The MNDAA is allied with three other ethnic minority armies: the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and part of the Shan State Army (SSA), although the KIA has remained in the region it controls, rather than following the MNDAA troops.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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