Thousands of Kachin refugees, mostly women and children fleeing the fighting in northern Myanmar, have reportedly spilled across the border into Yunnan, a situation Chinese authorities have for months being trying to prevent. The reports come via the Kachin Women’s Association in Thailand, which puts the numbers at between 6,000 and 10,000 refugees, and ChinaAid, a U.S.-based Christian organization, which puts the numbers as high at 25,000 and says they are sheltering in several camps in Yunnan.
Reuters news agency reports Yunnanese authorities denying any knowledge of an influx of refugees. There has been no independent confirmation to date. Kachin refugee aid organizations have previously said that there are 19 refugee camps in China, though China does not acknowledge their presence.
The conflict between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army has already spawned makeshift refugee camps housing upwards of 40,000 along the Myanmar side of the border. Large international relief agencies have not been allowed access to the area by the Myanmar government. Local aid groups say food is in short supply in the camps with the onset of winter weather and that outbreaks of dysentery and cholera are being seen. One child is reported to have died from cholera. One report says cholera has also been seen in the Yunnanese border town of Ruili, reinforcing fears of a potential humanitarian disaster in the region.
The fighting broke out after a 17-year old ceasefire broke down last June. It has continued despite last December’s order by Myanmar President Thein Sein to his military to end operations.
Meanwhile, Chinese-brokered peace talks are making slow progress. Two rounds of talks have been held over the past two months in Ruili. But no agreement has been reached between the Myanmar government and the Kachins similar to the preliminary peace deals struck between Naypyidaw and eight of the 11 ethnic groups in Myanmar seeking greater autonomy. A third round of talks due to have taken place last weekend didn’t happen because of disagreement between the two sides over where to meet.