Mon 31 Aug 2009
Filed under: On The Border
As more than 30,000 refugees return to Burma (Myanmar), key ally China urges Burma to “properly handle domestic problems and maintain stability.”
After several days of clashes between Burmese ethnic groups and government forces, the fighting came to an abrupt end on Sunday. The violence sent up to 30,000 refugees into China, some of whom were rebels who handed over their guns and uniforms to Chinese authorities.
China’s official news service, Xinhua, has reported that a number of refugees have begun returning to their homes in Burma now that the fighting has stopped. Chinese officials assisted a number of refugees by providing tents, food, and medical aid.
Both China and the ruling military junta in Burma have a particular interest in the return of stability to the region, as China has plans to build oil and gas pipelines through Burma. There are also nearly 10,000 Chinese business people in the fractious area of Northern Burma.
In a rare move by China, an ally of the Burmese government, the country’s foreign ministry spoke out urging Burma to “properly handle domestic problems and maintain stability in the China-Burma border region” and to “protect the security and legal rights” of its citizens in the country, reports the The Financial Times. Meanwhile, the Chinese media reports that Burmese officials have apologized for any Chinese casualities and thanked its neighbor for assisting refugees.
The situation erupted on Thursday when the Burmese army sent troops to occupy the Kokang territory following the refusal of several ethnic militias to convert into border security forces under the authority of the Burmese military. While it remains uncertain if the relative calm will remain, the Burmese government may have done considerable damage to its relationship with China, reports The Irrawaddy, a magazine published in Thailand by Burmese exiles.
Some observers said that junta head Gen. Than Shwe’s decision to send troops into Kokang territory despite China’s concerns showed his determination to demonstrate that he will not be constrained by Beijing.
“The Burmese junta doesn’t care what anybody thinks, so I don’t think the generals are thinking about China’s response,” said Chan Tun, a former Burmese ambassador to China.
Still, it remains unlikely that China and Burma’s military junta will break ties over the incident. Meanwhile, The China Post reports that clashes between Burmese ethnic groups and government forces are likely to continue, because none of the ethnic groups’ concerns have been addressed and the military junta is working to strengthen its grasp on power before the country’s national elections.
The latest tension is a consequence of the military’s attempt to silence the voice of the opposition in the runup to the 2010 general election. Unless the military junta can persuade the different ceasefire groups to accept its terms, it is likely that similar confrontations will occur. Despite international criticisms, the Burmese military junta is determined to move forward with the 2010 general election. Under the guidelines of the 2008 constitution, it is by and large a forgone conclusion that the military will hold on to power after election.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the Burmese government will move an additional 3,000 troops to the northern area of the country. Regional analysts and officials say the government’s apparent objective is to rout out the ethnic militants before the elections. If the country does go to the ballot box in 2010, it will be the first time the country has had elections in nearly 20 years.