China Turns Back Thousands of Myanmar Refugees Trying to Cross Border to Safety

myanmar-kachin-idps-china-jan11-2017.jpg Myanmar residents displaced by fighting between ethnic armed groups and government army troops cross a river boundary between Myanmar and China at the border village of Lung Byen near southwestern China's Yunnan province, Jan. 11, 2017.
Joint Strategy Team/AFP

About 4,000 Myanmar refugees who attempted to flee across the border to safety in China after mortar shells fell in two internally displaced persons camps in Kachin state’s Waingmaw township on Wednesday were turned away by Chinese authorities, leaving them with nowhere to go in the conflict zone, a Kachin religious official said.

Samson Hkalam, General Secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, a Myanmar Baptist denominational organization that assists refugees in the northern state, said the internal refugees from the Zai Awng and Hkau Shau camps are still on the road with no place to stay.

They are afraid to return to their internal refugee camps near which mortar shells have exploded from fighting between government troops and ethnic armed soldiers from the autonomy-seeking Kachin Independence Army (KIA), he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

The KBC, which has its headquarters in the state capital Myitkyina, will discuss these refugees’ plight with officials from the Kachin state government as well as with Chinese authorities, he said.

A Joint Strategy Team (JST) for Humanitarian Response in Kachin and Northern Shan States, which was formed by nine Kachin civil society organizations, including the KBC, to support the internally displaced persons (IDPs), released a statement on Wednesday saying that most of those who left the camps are women, children, and the elderly, who don’t have enough food.

The statement also said they fled from their camps when government troops attacked the KIA’s Battalion 3 with heavy weapons and airstrikes on Tuesday.

Mortar shelling by the Myanmar army late last December forced more than 2,000 IDPs to flee their camps. One IDP living at the Zai Awng refugee camp told RFA that she had heard the fighting for the past three months and that the hostilities had intensified.

The IDP camps at Zai Awng, Hkau Shau, and Magayang, which provide shelter for about 7,000 people, are located near the conflict areas, according to a report by the online journal The Irrawaddy.

The fighting intensifies

The KIA and three other ethnic militias teamed up to launch coordinated attacks on 10 government and military targets in three Shan state townships and the 105-mile border trade zone between Myanmar and China on Nov. 20.

Government soldiers have seized various KIA outposts and battalions during the clashes, which have resulted in an increase in the number of internal refugees and civilian deaths as well as thrown a wrench into the government’s efforts to bring warring ethnic militias to the negotiating table.

On Tuesday, authorities would not allow Yanghee Lee, the United Nations human rights envoy for Myanmar, to visit the towns of Laiza and Hpakant in Kachin state, citing safety concerns.

That day the Myanmar army carried out air strikes near the border town of Laiza, which houses camps for the internally displaced and the headquarters of the KIA.

Lee began a 12-day visit to the country on Monday to examine the human rights situation in volatile areas of Myanmar.

Ethnic armies at odds in Tanintharyi

Fighting between the army of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Karen National Union (KNU) broke out on Wednesday in Thechaung village, Yayphyu township, in Tanintharyi region in the narrow southern part of Myanmar, but no casualties have been reported, a KNU official said.

The KNU said that it will report today’s situation to the top leaders from both sides and will work toward a solution to the hostilities

“To make it short, it is a territory problem,” said Phado Saw Win Khine, the KNU’s communication official based in the town of Dawei, which lies about 60 miles (97 kilometers) from Thechaung village.

“We haven’t solved the territorial disputes between two groups very well,” he said.

The NMSP was not among the eight ethnic armed groups that signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) in October 2015, because it was opposed to the exclusion of other ethnic militias from the accord.

The KNU, which has fought to carve out an independent Karen state from large swaths of land in lower Myanmar, is an NCA signatory.

In a related development, the ethnic armed groups that have signed the NCA formed a liaison committee during an emergency meeting on Wednesday to prepare to meet with key government leaders, including de facto leader and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.

The emergency meeting was held for two days at KNU headquarters in Law Khee Lar Camp in Hpa-An district of southern Myanmar’s Karen state along the Myanmar-Thailand border.

The committee’s five members—the KNU’s chairman General Mutu Say Pho; Khine Soe Aung from the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP); All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) chairman Than Ke; adviser Khun Sai from the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS-South); and Colonel Khun Okkar from the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO)—will meet with government leaders before February peace talks.

“It is important to talk with decision makers who can solve the current problems we are facing,” said Than Ke of the ABSDF. “That’s why we have formed this representative group that will be sent to [meet with] government leaders.”

The government, which has put national reconciliation and peace at the top of its agenda, expects to hold its next round of peace talks with the military and armed militias in February.

Reported by Kyaw Soe Lin, Kyaw Thu, and Aung Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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