Supply Shortage for Kokang Refugees in China: Local Lawmakers

By Nyein Nyein 10 March 2015

RANGOON — Refugees taking shelter on the Sino-Burmese border after fleeing fighting in northeast Burma’s Kokang Special Region are facing shortage of humanitarian support, according to Kokang lawmakers in contact with them.

The lawmakers said there are more than 61,000 refugees along the border from Chin Shwe Haw, where severe fighting between the Burma Army and Kokang rebels has continued this week, north to the town of Mao Htike.

Lawmaker Haw Shauk Chan, also known as Haw Kwan, said material support began to dry up two days ago, “because the relief group in China cannot take out the money to support them.”

The Lower House parliamentarian representing Kunlong town for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) said Chinese relief groups had been supporting the refugees with about 1 million Chinese yuan (US$160,000) daily in humanitarian aid. It was not clear whether the aid group, a financer or the Chinese government was responsible for cutting the humanitarian funding.

Haw Kwan told The Irrawaddy that the refugees were trying to find ways to feed themselves along the border, a task made difficult by their inability to work to earn money.

Kyaw Ni Naing, another USDP lawmaker representing a Laukkai constituency, said the Burmese government’s relief committee has been providing support for displaced people on the Burma side of the border, recently transporting 2,100 sacks of rice for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Local relief workers in Kunlong said migrant workers from central Burma had begun to return to their homes. “We helped the transport of those migrant workers from Laukkai,” said Nay Lin, part of a local aid group that helped repatriate of over 5,000 workers from Feb. 10 to March 8.

The lawmakers estimate that the displaced refugee figure could be more than their estimate of 61,000. Preliminary results of Burma’s 2014 census found the Kokang Special Region to have a population of about 95,000 people, and the local lawmakers said more than 70 percent of the region’s residents have fled over the last month.

The Kokang parliamentarians said the displaced populations’ plight is particularly acute because no international humanitarian assistance is reaching them.

Many refugees are not yet able to return to their homes, with ongoing fighting in the region pitting the Kokang armed rebel group Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) against government troops. The Burma Army continues to launch offensives against strategic hill outposts held by MNDAA troops north of Chin Shwe Haw, according to military mouthpiece Myawaddy, a daily newspaper.

State-run media reported that eight Burma Army soldiers were killed and 50 others injured during severe fighting with Kokang rebels in Laukkai on Sunday that included government airstrikes.

The government has been releasing regular updates on causalities in the conflict, and says so far the Burma Army has seen 73 soldiers killed and 189 injured. The government says it has recovered 86 Kokang insurgents’ bodies.

MNDAA secretary Htun Myat Lin, however, told The Irrawaddy last week that the rebel group had not lost any outposts to the Burma Army, and said government figures on MNDAA fatalities were overinflated. Only 14 Kokang soldiers had been killed and 20 others injured, he claimed.

The MNDAA has between 2,000 and 3,000 troops and has been fighting against government troops in Laukkai and the surrounding Kokang Special Region since Feb. 9.

On Tuesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman again voiced displeasure over the ongoing hostilities, including what it says was the destruction of a home on the Chinese side of the border caused by an errant Burma Army artillery shell, according to a Reuters report.

“China has already expressed its serious concern to the Myanmar side, demanding they get to the bottom of what happened and take effective measures to prevent such an incident from happening again,” spokesman Hong Lei was quoted as saying.