Thousands of refugees from Myanmar have fled into south-west China in the last two days following clashes between government forces and an ethnic group in the north-east region.

Since August 8, more than 10,000 people have fled into south-west Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar, after the military government there reportedly sent its troops to the Kokang ethnic region to crack down on drug trade. The move has led to clashes between Kokang rebel groups and the army. The violence has seen a mass exodus of the minority group, which has escalated since Thursday after fresh fighting broke out.

An official in the Yunnan provincial government told The Hindu over the phone from Kunming that streams of refugees continued to pour into the province on Friday. “We still do not have an official estimate on figures as people are still streaming in,” he said. “The provincial government has despatched a large number of personnel to the region to help resettle the refugees.” Officials said China had in the last 24 hours considerably increased its military presence along the border. The unrest poses a dilemma for China, which enjoys close commercial and political ties with the Myanmar junta. The Kokang region is populated with ethnic Chinese. Analysts here also fear the unrest could break out into a full-scale civil war and lead to instability on China’s south-west frontiers. “It’s the country’s internal affair, but it also involves a large number of ethnic Chinese,” He Shengda of the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences told the state-run Global Times newspaper. “China will not tolerate the Myanmar government chasing the refugees across the border.”

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. A ceasefire accord between Yangon and 17 ethnic groups has been in force in the last two decades, but this month’s violence has led to fears it could break down.

Keywords: MyanmarChinarefugees

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