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China repatriates Kachin refugees: priest

An estimated 600 refugees have been sent to a new camp in KIO-controlled territory in Myanmar

Kachin refugees at a camp in Nongdao district in Yunnan province Kachin refugees at a camp in Nongdao district in Yunnan province
  • John Zaw, Mandalay
  • Myanmar
  • August 23, 2012
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Chinese authorities yesterday began forcibly relocating Kachin refugees who had taken shelter across the border to escape fighting between government forces and the Kachin ethnic opposition army.

Father Stephen Zaw Min Latt said Chinese police arrived on Wednesday at two camps in Nongdao district in Yunnan province to begin repatriating some of the estimated 4,500 Kachin refugees in makeshift camps in the province’s Nongdao district.

“About 600 refugees have already been relocated to a new area in KIO [Kachin Independence Organization] territory, with Chinese authorities arranging transportation,” said Fr. Zaw, who has provided relief aid to refugees in Yunnan province.

The priest, from Banmaw diocese in Kachin state, said another 130 families were relocated on Thursday morning, with 20 of them moving to the new camp and 110 others opting for a Catholic Church-run camp in Mang Wing in Kachin state.

“It was like hell yesterday when Chinese police came to guard the refugee camps and force the refugees to leave,” Fr. Zaw said.

“Some of the families had fled the camps the previous night for fear that they would be forced by police to leave.”

The repatriation was part of negotiations between Chinese authorities and officials of the Kachin Independence Organization that began last month, and which proposed relocating refugees to a new camp in Lana Zup, according to a report by the Kachin News Group.

Analysts from Kachin state have suggested that Chinese police were repatriating Kachin refugees incrementally and in small numbers to avoid scrutiny and condemnation from the international community.

A Kachin man who said he witnessed the relocation but declined to give his name out of fear for his safety told ucanews.com: “Chinese police confiscated cameras from people who were photographing the refugees’ relocation.”

However, a report today in China’s English language newspaper Global Times quoted authorities in Yunnan province and the consulate general of Myanmar in Kunming as denying that China had forcibly repatriated refugees or put pressure on the KIO to encourage them to leave.

The article further noted that officials in Ruili, on the China border with Myanmar, had also denied receiving any orders to return refugees to Kachin state.

Fighting between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army broke out in June last year, ending a 17-year ceasefire and displacing tens of thousands of people.

Up to 10,000 Kachin refugees have crossed the Chinese border into Yunnan province since that time, according to a recent report by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

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