09/01/2009, 00.00
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Beijing dismantles tents, begins refugee repatriation to Kokang

China refuses to grant refugee status, but provides food, water and shelter to the more than 37,000 people that left Myanmar as a result of clashes between the military and rebel groups. Official Myanmar sources say 26 soldiers and 8 rebels have died in fighting. The Myanmar government wants to take control of the territory to implement economic plans agreed with Beijing.
Nansan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese authorities are dismantling tents set up in Nansan (Yunnan) on the border with Myanmar to house thousands of Myanmar residents who fled clashes between the Myanmar military and rebel groups. The slow process of repatriating the refugees, which began yesterday, continued today after Beijing refused to grant the displaced people refugee status. It did however provide them with food, water and shelter. Although residents of Myanmar many of them are actually ethnic Chinese.

A few days ago about 37,000 people left the town of Kokang, in Myanmar; between yesterday and today about two thirds of them were taken back on buses provided by the Chinese government.

The conflict between the Myanmar military and local rebel groups flared up in recent weeks, resulting in the death of 26 dead soldiers and 8 rebels and the flight of thousands of people, official government sources reported.

Myanmar’s ethnic minorities have been a problem for decades. Recently the country’s ruling military dictatorship launched a military offensive in order to force them to surrender ahead of next year’s elections and get them to work with the central government on defending national borders.

Government troops have seized the town of Kokang with the cooperation of local militias that joined the army in the fight against rebel groups.

The Shan Herald news agency reported on its website that some soldiers with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), who have been control of Kokang since a ceasefire was reached in 1989, crossed the border into China where they were disarmed by the People’s Liberation Army.

According to the Shan Herald, the clashes might be related to China’s plan to build the “Kunlong Dam” in Myanmar’s Shan State. In order to do so, China and Myanmar would have to forcibly remove thousands of local residents, including in Kokang.

Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, said Myanmar forces were continuing to pour into the north-east part of the country, as a prelude to more fighting.

If Myanmar’s military successfully takes control of the territory, mainland China will benefit because of a number of economic and commercial deals involving the region it reached with the junta.

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