Burmese refugees begin return from China

Aug 31, 2009 (DVB), Thousands of refugees who fled to China to escape fighting in northern Burma today began returning to their villages, fearing widespread looting of shops and houses.

Last week up to 30,000 people from the Kokang region in Burma's northern Shan state crossed into China after fighting broke out between Burmese troops and ethnic ceasefire groups.

Today it appeared that the Burmese army had won control of the region, and the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported this morning that "peace had been restored".

According to Reuters reporters in the area, border checkpoints were thronging with people attempting to cross back into Burma.

"Of course I’m scared [to go back], but there’s no choice," said Liu Shurong, one of the refugees about to return to Kokang.

"If you don’t go back to guard your shop, it will be looted. Many of my neighbors have lost all their belongings."

Prior to the fighting, Kokang was largely controlled by armed ethnic groups, and acted as a buffer zone between China and Burma rife with drug trafficking and gambling.

The latest instance of fighting in the region was triggered by pressure from the ruling junta on ceasefire groups to disarm and form political parties in lieu of the 2010 elections.

Kokang troops on 28 August attacked a police outpost near to Laogai town close to the China-Burma border, killing one Burmese police officer and injuring two.

China, one of Burma's strongest allies who had been sheltering the refugees, issued a rare admonishment to Burma last week about the mass of people flooding across its border.

The Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday urging Burma to "properly deal with its domestic issue to safeguard the regional stability in the China-Myanmar [Burma] border area".

Many Chinese nationals live in the Kokang region, and those who fled into China reportedly faced difficulties reentering Burma.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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