China Denies Blocking Refugees From Burmese Fighting

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 1:15 pm (UTC-5)
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China is denying charges that its border guards have turned back thousands of refugees who are fleeing a Burmese government assault on ethnic rebels in northern Burma.

The Thailand-based Kachin News Group, which has close ties to the rebels, says more than 10,000 Kachin refugees have fled to the Chinese border over the past three days of clashes. A witness tells VOA that most have been turned back at the border and are now hiding in nearby churches and forests.

The Irrawaddy newspaper, run by Burmese exiles in Thailand, quoted local relief workers saying only a few hundred of the refugees have been admitted into China. It said most of those were elderly or mothers with children, and that Chinese authorities had confiscated any mobile phones and ordered them not to contact anyone in China.

But at a briefing Thursday in Beijing, spokesman Hong Lei said the situation described by the media “does not exist.” He said some Burmese have crossed the border to find relatives and friends, and that the government has provided assistance “in accordance with normal practice.”

The fighting has been centered around two hydroelectric dam projects on the Taping River which are being built by Chinese companies and are expected to provide China with electricity.

Local residents told VOA's Burma service that two Burmese soldiers were killed and six wounded when the KIA ambushed an army vehicle Thursday. Meanwhile, intense fighting in the Mansi area left two soldiers dead and six wounded.

KIA spokesmen say the rebels have blown up seven bridges in the area in an effort to impede the Burmese army's advance. The KIA says they are ready for peace talks, and have welcomed Burmese soldiers that want to desert the army.

Burmese officials have not made any statements regarding the clashes. It is almost impossible for outsiders to confirm reports about the fighting. The border areas are largely off limits to foreigners and journalists.

The Kachin Independence Army, like several other ethnic militias in Burma, signed a cease-fire agreement with the central government several years ago. But those agreements began to break down in 2009, when Burma demanded that the militia groups come under central authority and serve as part of a national border guard. That prompted some militias to resume fighting.