We are getting new reports of intensified fighting between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) just over the border from Yunnan. With it, a growing number of displaced locals are threatening a humanitarian disaster on China’s southwestern doorstep.
The number of refugees housed in makeshift camps along the border, such as the one at Sang Gang shown in the picture above from Human Rights Watch, is said now to approach 35,000, with international aid agencies having little or no access to the area. It is two months since Naypyidaw last let the World Food Program and Oxfam deliver supplies to the refugee camps. The same month Beijing beefed up its own forces on the Yunnan side of the border to prevent the trickle fleeing into China turning into a flood.
Last month, the Myanmar government held a round of Chinese-brokered talks with the political wing of the KIA in Ruili, the railhead on the Yunnan side of the border. These appear to have achieved little more than promises of a political dialogue on behalf of a civilian government in Naypyidaw. For all its putative signs of engagement with the outside world and steps towards democratic reform at home, the government appears to have little control over the army commanders conducting the fighting on the ground in Kachin province. Meanwhile, the humanitarian disaster that Beijing fears on its doorstep gets ever closer, while the peace necessary to restore China’s commercial activities in northern Myanmar recedes.
Update: Mizzima News, a Burmese exiles’ newspaper based in Delhi, reports that Chinese officials today told 2,000 refugees who crossed the border from Kachin province to stay with relatives in Yunnan to return home. The newspaper also puts the number of refugees in the camps on the Myanmar side of the border at 45,000. Meanwhile, Burma News International says that there are 16 temporary camps on the Yunnan side of the border, housing 7,000 refugees.