Thursday, September 24, 2009

10,000 Flee to China as Myanmar Fight Raises Civil War Fears

BANGKOK: Continuous fighting between Myanmar's junta and rebel ethnic armies in the northeast has driven more than 10,000 refugees into China. It has also raised fears of a full scale civil war, media and analysts said Friday. A battle in the remote Shan state between the Kokang rebel group and the government's army began Thursday, breaking a 20-year ceasefire, according to the US Campaign for Burma (USCB), which uses Myanmar's former name. More than 10,000 refugees have crossed into the Chinese border town of Nansan in south-western Yunnan province and at least one Myanmar policeman was reportedly killed during the battle, the campaign group said. The exodus began after Myanmar's junta deployed troops in the mainly ethnic Chinese region on August 8, and now "only elderly peoples are left at homes," it added. Chinese state media reported Friday, citing local officials, that Myanmar nationals were still crossing the border into Yunnan province, without giving a specific figure. "It's difficult to get a real time update of that number," Yu Chunyan, a spokesman for the provincial government, was quoted as saying in the English-language Global Times. The newspaper reported that China had increased the number of armed police along the common border. Refugees have been settled in a temporary camp, and Chinese officials were providing food and medical care, the state Xinhua news agency reported, citing unnamed provincial government sources. Another ethnic group, the United Wa State Army, has now reportedly joined the Kokang forces' fight against the Myanmar junta, according to Khuensai Jaiyen, editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News. "People say they have been hearing gunshots and explosions," he told AFP, warning that other groups currently under ceasefire agreements could join in. "If the Burmese army is returning to a reconciliatory stance it might get better but if not it might be blown into a full-scale civil war." He added that the government was trying to create stability ahead of elections scheduled in 2010 but warned "it will be the opposite." David Mathieson, a Myanmar analyst at Human Rights Watch, agreed full-scale civil war was "a very real fear." "This could potentially be the flashpoint that draws in several other groups to the resumption of open conflict," he said. Myanmar, under military rule since 1962, has signed ceasefires with 17 ethnic armed groups. The USCB said before the battle that the Kokang forces - known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army - had split, with one faction joining the government's troops occupying Laogai, capital of the Kokang region. The other faction had refused to obey the junta's order to place its troops under army control. Peng Jiasheng, leader of the rebel group, issued a statement via USCB late Thursday on the "urgent need of peaceful and patient discussion between all parties concerned." Refugees began to flee three weeks ago after Myanmar sent dozens of military police to crack down on a gun-repair factory suspected of being a front for drugs production, sparking fear among locals, Chinese media said. According to the USCB, the junta has since deployed thousands of troops to the region and announced that Peng Jiasheng and his family were fugitives wanted for narcotics production.(Times of India 28/8/09)

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