Tens of thousands of refugees from Myanmar’s ethnic region of Kokang have fled into the neighbouring Chinese province of Yunnan over the past week amid fighting between militant rebels and government troops.
Citing government officials, the state-owned news site Yunnan.cn reported yesterday that there have been 30,000 border crossings by Myanmar nationals, and that Chinese authorities had offered them food and medical care.
Lin Sen, a volunteer helping refugees in Yunnan, said over phone today that he estimated 30,000 to 50,000 refugees had escaped the conflict region of Kokang over the past week.
Kokang is dominated by ethnic Han Chinese, and the region has been embroiled in fights since conflicts between the militant rebels led by Phone Kya Shin and government troops intensified on Feb 9.
The rebel group’s general secretary, Htun Myat Lin, told The Associated Press over phone today that the group is seeking autonomy for Kokang and its ethnic Han Chinese people.
“We want to have a high degree of autonomy where we can manage our own affairs, but we do not wish to split the country of Myanmar,” Htun said.
Htun complained that the ethnic Han Chinese have been second-class citizens in Myanmar. “Our ethnicity must have dignity,” he said.
Myanmar only recently emerged from a half-century of military rule. Since assuming power in 2011, the government of President Thein Sein has been trying to strike peace agreements with rebels in resource-rich border regions.
Though preliminary pacts have been reached with most of the ethnic groups, clashes occasionally occur with Kachin, Shan and others. In addition to control over jade, timber and other natural resources in areas under their control, they want assurances that they will have some say over future troop movements.