Beijing helps neighbours deal with refugee crisis

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am


Beijing is mediating between Myanmar's military government and Kachin rebel forces following an influx of refugees into Yunnan province while construction of a Chinese oil pipeline proceeds through the conflict zone.

Addressing reporters on the sidelines of the National People's Congress in Beijing yesterday, Meng Sutie, head of the Yunnan provincial public security department, confirmed that residents from across the border in Myanmar had entered Yunnan during periods of 'sporadic warfare' and pledged to provide the necessary humanitarian aid when such conflicts were life-threatening.

'China is actively pushing both sides to resolve the conflict peacefully,' Meng said.

Chinese engineers are building a new port at Ramree island, on Myanmar's west coast, as well as oil and gas pipelines, railway lines and expressways from the island to the border town of Ruili in Yunnan.

Meng said many Chinese companies had invested in Myanmar, especially in the pipelines passing through Kachin state to Yunnan, and that both the Kachin leadership and Myanmar government supported their construction.

'The construction progress is running smoothly and has not experienced any outstanding problems,' Meng said.

China had mediated at several meetings between Kachin forces and Myanmese government officials.

'The Chinese government provided necessary services and mediation required to foster talks in a bid to maintain ethnic unity, peace and border stability,' Meng said.

'We have seen that both sides have made progress, but the Kachin problem is a long-standing one which requires deep understanding from both sides to resolve the problem through talks.'

The refugee influx began last June when the Myanmese military and Kachin fighters resumed their conflict after a 17-year ceasefire.

Media reports last month said up to 10,000 Kachin refugees, mostly women, children and the elderly, had fled to Yunnan. Aid agencies complained of the difficulties in supplying them with drinking water.

Meng said most Kachin refugees had relatives among Yunnan's Jingpo ethnic minority and entered with legal permits. He estimated there were no more than 3,000 refugees.

'But there are also a number of elderly people and children who have overstayed, and we will provide aid as a gesture to our neighbouring country's residents,' Meng said.

Meanwhile, he said safe navigation of the Mekong River had been restored after the formation of joint patrols with Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, although isolated incidents were still disrupting shipping.

Joint patrols were launched after 13 Chinese crewmen from two boats were killed in an attack in October.