Tag Archives: Kachin

New Kachin Peace Talks Scheduled In Yunnan

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.

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Thousands of Kachin Refugees Said Still To Be In Yunnan

As many as 15,000 refugees from the fighting in Myanmar’s Kachin province may still be taking shelter in Yunnan province, even though China doesn’t want them there and has denied their presence. The number comes from
Wunpawng Ninghtoi (the People’s Light), a Kachin refugee support group, quoted by the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma web site.

Yunnan provincial and local officials have been pressing the refugees they say they aren’t aware of to return to Myanmar. The aid group says those still in China, spread across 19 camps, are relying on aid from locals and religious groups. On the Myanmar side of the remote, hilly border, there are an estimated 70,000 displaced persons living in camps. International aid agencies have been given only limited access to the area by the Myanmar government. They appear to have been denied any access from the Chinese side, despite reports of a fatal cholera outbreak spreading into Ruili, the Yunnan border town that is a hub for Sino-Myanmar trade.

Fighting between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army broke out last June, ending a 17-years truce. Beijing has been brokering peace talks between the two sides. The most recent meeting was held last month in Ruili. However, the Myanmar government has not 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.

Beijing, already unsettled by ethnic unrest of its own on 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. It has told Naypyidaw to stem this latest flow of Kachin refugees. “Maintaining the peace and stability of the Chinese-Myanmar frontier region concerns the common interests of both countries,” chief government adviser Jia Qinglin told visiting Myanmar lower house speaker and former third-ranking general in the junta, Thura Shwe Mann (via Reuters).

Beijing also wants the considerable infrastructure projects it is building and bankrolling in Myanmar  to proceed smoothly. Relations between the two countries have got testier over the past year following President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government replacing the long-ruling junta that counted only Beijing and Pyongyang as fast friends. Since then, Thein Sein has started opening up more to the rest of the world and, as he put it in a speech marking the first anniversary of his government, aims to “maintain amity with both East and West”. Myanmar, like Sudan, Syria and the South China Sea, has become yet another place where Beijing is finding its foreign relations to be becoming more complex, and its national interests rubbing up against those of others.

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Yunnan Denies Knowledge Of Influx Of Kachin Refugees

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.

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Little Imminent Prospect Of Peace Along China’s Myanmar Border

Slow progress is being made at the truce talks China is hosting between the Myanmar government and the autonomy-seeking Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Two more days of talks were held last week in Ruili, a border crossing town on the Yunnan side. Naypyidaw’s chief negotiator said afterwards that a lasting truce would not be quickly achieved. Aung Thaung, a former general who is also Myanmar’s industry minister, said the process could take more than three years.

That would not please Beijing, which wants stability along its western reaches and control over what is thought to be an arms smuggling route to Tibetean dissidents in western China, seemingly newly active. Nor would it satisfy Naypyidaw, which needs political settlements with its ethnic minorities to bolster its case for a lifting of international sanctions against the country.

Some 60,000 Kachin have fled their homes in the remote and mountainous region over the past seven months following the breakdown of a 17-years long ceasefire. A few made it into China to seek refuge with relatives, but Beijing has discouraged mass cross-border migration, fearing a large influx of refuges. Instead they are gathering in ever larger numbers in makeshift camps along the border.

Meanwhile, armed skirmishes continue along the Myanmar side of the border with Yunnan between government forces and the KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army, despite two orders by Myanmar President Thein Sein to his military to end its operations in Kachin. One (unconfirmed) report suggested fighting had spilled at one point across the border into the Chinese province. Further talks between the Naypyidaw government and the KIO are be held, probably in February.

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Beijing’s Helping Hand For Naypyidaw

A new sign of how tight relations have been between Beijing and Naypyidaw: Five months ago, China deported one of the main ethnic Karen rebel leaders to Myanmar after he had been returned to China by Thai authorities following a visa problem when he was trying to return to Bangkok on a flight from Kunming. Mahn Nyein Maung of the Karen National Union (KNU), and who is famous for escaping from Myanmar’s penal colony on Coco Island in 1970 by floating across the Indian Ocean on driftwood, has now reportedly been sentenced to 17 years imprisonment by Myanmar authorities after a secret trial.

The KNU is one of several ethnic groups fighting for autonomy in northern Myanmar, which Naypyidaw has been exploring peace talks while at the same time continuing to wage  military offensives against  them. China is also taking a hard-line against refugees from another rebellious ethnic group in northern Myanmar, the Kachin, whose province borders Yunnan. Reports from a UN humanitarian aid convoy allowed into the area by Naypyidaw say that Chinese authorities told some 2,000 Kachin taking shelter from the fighting at a temporary camp in Laying in Yunnan that if they didn’t go back to Myanmar they would be returned by force. Food and medical supplies from the UN were seemingly not allowed across the border.

Beijing does not want a repeat of the flood of refugees it got when fighting flared up in Kachin in 2009, and some 30,000 fled into Yunnan. This time the feared humanitarian disaster is again starting, but on the Myanmar side of the border. Health conditions are deteriorating and at least one child is reported to have died in the makeshift refugee camps.

Myanmar’s president recently ordered government forces to cease attacks against the Kachin Independence Army, fighting has not stopped along the Sino-Myanmar border. New reports talk for the first time of villages being bombed by the Myanmar air force. We can’t imagine Beijing would allow warplanes to be flying along its borders without its consent, however tacit.

Meanwhile, Beijing is stepping up its diplomatic engagement with Myanmar, including with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who earlier this week had her first meeting with a Chinese ambassador to Myanmar for two decades (shades of lessons learned from Libya perhaps, where Beijing was tardy in establishing contacts with opposition groups). Beijing is also sending its top diplomat, State Councillor Dai Bingguo, to the two-day meeting of Mekong River countries that starts on Monday, though prime minister Wen Jiabao was originally scheduled to attend.

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Naypyidaw Orders Halt To Fighting Along Sino-Myanmar Border

Myanmar President Thein Sein has reportedly ordered a halt to the government’s military offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) along the border with Yunnan. Fighting has intensified since a 17-year old truce broke down in June. Tens of thousands of ethnic Kachins have been displaced, sending up to a reported 7,500 unwanted refugees across the border in to Yunnan and threatening a humanitarian disaster on China’s southwestern doorstep. Chinese authorities in border towns have started encouraging Kachin refugees to return home. Naypyidaw allowed a small U.N. relief convoy through to the border town of Laiza on Monday, the first international aid to get through to the region in a couple of months.

Naypyidaw similarly stopped its offensive against ethnic Shan further south last month. With sporadic fighting continuing in Kachin despite the order to cease fire except in self-defense, one question now is how far the writ of the civilian government in Naypyidaw runs over the military’s commanders on the ground. Another is whether Naypyidaw will be prepared to drop its refusal to put greater autonomy for the region on the agenda of its formal ceasefire talks with the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization.

With several Chinese-backed hydropower dams being built in Kachin, including the controversial and now halted Myitsone Dam on the headwaters of the Mekong, Beijing badly needs an outbreak of peace in this gateway to Southeast Asia.

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Humanitarian Disaster Looms Ever Nearer On Sino-Myanmar Border

Sang Gang internally displaced persons camp, Kachin State, Myanmar

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.

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More Bad Burmese Days For Beijing

This Bystander noted last month that Beijing had moved additional troops and armed police to Yunnan on its side of the border with Myanmar’s Kachin state as Myanmar government forces pushed their new offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Latest reports say the fighting has again flared up, sending a trickle of refugees into China, unwanted as they may be. Most of those displaced by the fighting, estimated to number 30,000, are in makeshift refugee camps on the Myanmar side of the border. Part of the purpose of Beijing beefing up its armed presence was to deter the trickle turning into a flow.

Beijing’s sympathies lie with Naypyidaw not the KIA, which has led the campaign to disrupt the expansion of China’s commercial interests in Kachin. The 17-year ceasefire between the KIA and the government had allowed Chinese companies to start logging, mining and hydropower projects in the region, such as the controversial and now suspended construction of the Myitsone Hydoelectric Dam on the Irrawaddy river. These interests are now at considerable risk.

Yet, Beijing’s close relationship with Naypyidaw that carried Myanmar’s military rulers through years of international isolation is now in flux following the installation of a civilian government, albeit one backed by the Army. The new government has been making reformist noises, for which it has been rewarded with the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014, suggesting it is looking south and west as well as northeast. The country’s new Army chief, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, chose to make his first overseas trip to Vietnam this week, not to China like his predecessors, a decision that will readily be seen as a snub to Beijing, especially as Hanoi is embroiled in a maritime dispute with China over the South China Sea.

Update: Beijing will not have been too pleased, either, to read the plea by U Kyaw Hsan, Myanmar’s information minister, for Washington to lift U.S. sanctions against his country, which he said was making it more reliant on Chinese companies. The minister’s comment came during an interview with the Wall Street Journal. We don’t think lifting of the sanctions is imminent, regardless of the Obama administration’s decision to send Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to visit the country. That fits more with the series of moves by Washington to deepen its engagement with China’s neighbors.

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The Troubling Trouble On China’s Southwestern Reaches

The situation just across the border from Yunnan in Myanmar’s Kachin state is becoming increasingly unstable. Beijing has moved additional troops to its side of the border to prevent a trickle of refugees into China again turning in to a flood, and to provide some moral, and possibly material support to Myanmar government forces fighting the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Fighting has intensified since the midyear collapse of a long-standing ceasefire between the KIA and the government. Ethnic Kachins fleeing the fighting are reportedly being turned back at the border. We hear, but have not been able to confirm, that the transport of supplies of food and medicine in the opposite direction are being hindered if they are thought to be destined for the KIA. Chinese riot police have been holding crowd control exercises within a baton’s length of crossings points on the border, while an additional 6,000 PLA troops were sent to Yunnan this month. They are being deployed opposite the KIA strongholds and refugee camps being set up for displaced Kachins that are close to the China border.

Beijing’s sympathies lie with Naypyidaw not the KIA, which has led the campaign to disrupt the expansion of China’s commercial interests in Kachin. The 17-year ceasefire between the KIA and the government had allowed Chinese companies to start logging, mining and hydropower projects in the region, such as the controversial and now suspended construction of the Myitsone Hydoelectric Dam on the Irrawaddy river. These interests are now at considerable risk.

Beijing would most like its old allies in Naypyidaw just to get the KIA under control. The hardliners in Myanmar’s army, who are close to Beijing, are happy to do that by force of arms, as they have shown in recent weeks, but President Thein Sein’s civilian government that succeeded the military junta that made Myanmar an international pariah, is more constrained. It is courting the West and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in order to return to the international fold. It cannot be seen to be Beijing’s lapdog, protecting Chinese commercial interests at the expense of a native ethnic minority and creating a humanitarian disaster to boot.

For its part, Beijing may have to take some sort of lead in brokering an end to the fighting in Kachin, uncomfortable as that might be for it now. Not only does it want neither unrest nor a humanitarian disaster on its southwestern reaches but it also does not want to create an opportunity for India or ASEAN to step, in the name of regional security, in to what Beijing considers its sphere of influence and a key corridor connecting it to the Indian Ocean.

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