UN: 15,000 Flee Shan State Conflict into China

By Reuters 20 December 2016

RANGOON — Up to 15,000 people may have fled across Burma’s border into China in the past month, a UN agency has said, as fighting between Burma’s army and ethnic armed groups intensifies.

Aid access to people affected by conflict in the northern states of Kachin and Shan “is getting worse, not better,” Pierre Peron, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Burma, said by email.

The OCHA said in an update on Monday that, as well as the estimated 15,000 new refugees, another 2,400 people had been displaced internally in the northern part of Shan state since Nov. 20, when a coalition of four rebel armies attacked military and police outposts.

The attacks disrupted trade across the border and China has expressed concern over stray shells and bullets landing in its territory.

Weeks of clashes and the new displacements have damaged Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s hopes of securing peace in the long-running conflicts in the mountainous border areas, a goal she has made her administration’s top priority.

Observers fear Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s fledgling civilian administration is unable to rein in the army, which retains political power and is free from civilian oversight.

“Humanitarian access to conflict areas in Kachin and Shan states is currently worse than at any point in the past few years,” Peron said.

“This has seriously affected the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide life-saving aid to tens of thousands of [internally displaced] and other conflict-affected people.”

The army said it would step up operations in Shan state following the November attacks.

A Burma police official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, told Reuters that government forces had clashed with armed groups in northern Shan at least 170 times in the past month.

In a separate offensive to the north, government forces took control of a strategic hill close to the Kachin Independence Army’s headquarters at Laiza on the Chinese border on Saturday, according to state media.

Shells reportedly landed near a camp for the internally displaced just outside Laiza on Sunday, the OCHA said, citing unconfirmed reports that it could not verify independently.

No casualties were reported but shelters were damaged and about 400 people had to be evacuated, it said.

A government spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.