A third round of the Chinese-brokered peace talks between the Myanmar government and Kachin groups seeking greater autonomy has been scheduled for March 8th in the Yunnan border town of Ruili, according to the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma. Fighting along the Sino-Myanmar border threatens a humanitarian disaster with an estimated 70,000 Kachins being displaced by the hostilities. Some 11,000-15,000 have crossed into China, though they are unwanted there, and their presence is not officially recognized.
The Kachin refugee support group Wunpawng Ninghtoi (the People’s Light) tells this Bystander that Chinese officials have again in recent days been pressing the refugees to return to the Myanmar side of the border. It also tells us that living conditions for the refugees in China are deteriorating, with many living under plastic sheeting or in makeshift shelters of bamboo or sugar-cane. They are said to be short of food, fresh water and firewood. An outbreak of cholera on the Kachin side of the border is said to have spread into Ruili.
Fighting between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army broke out last June, ending a 17-years truce. Beijing, increasingly unsettled by the unrest in its western reaches, does not want a repeat of 2009 when a Myanmar offensive against an ethnic Kokang militia in Shan state forced more than 30,000 refugees to flee into China. The most recent meeting in the talks between the two sides that Beijing has been brokering was held last month. However, the Myanmar government has not so far been able to reach a peace agreement with the Kachins as it has with nine of the eleven armed ethnic groups in the country that also seek greater autonomy.