UN fears violence in Wa region

Sept 4, 2009 (DVB), The United Nations refugee agency today called on China to allow it access to Burmese refugees in the country's southern border region fearing additional displacement from northern Burma.

Nearly 10,000 of the estimated 37,000 refugees who fled last week's fighting in northeastern Burma between Burmese troops and an armed ethnic group have returned from China.

A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today asked for access to those remaining in China, and expressed concern that refugee numbers could swell in the event of fighting in Shan state's Wa region.

"UNHCR has called on the Chinese authorities to allow us access to the border area and has proposed a joint needs assessment so as to offer support for any possible unmet needs," said spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.

"We hope this request will be positively considered as additional displacement may occur in the region should the situation deteriorate in the Wa State of Myanmar [Burma]."

Burmese army troops have moved into the Wa region near Kokang, where last week's fighting erupted.

The region is home to the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma's largest ceasefire group.

"Our people and the Kokang are on alert because they are right at our doorstep, perhaps, to set up temporary camps. People are afraid and some have fled," said a UWSA officer.

The leader of the Kokang ceasefire group, whose clash with Burmese troops last week ended a 20-year truce with the government, has reportedly fled to the Wa region.

He is said to be close be close to UWSA leader Bai Youxiang, Around 500 UWSA troops supported the Kokang group during the fighting.

According to the UNHCR, at least 13,000 people remain in seven camps on the Chinese side of the border and are being supported by the Chinese government.

"Although we have not been able to visit these locations, the reports we have been receiving have been consistent" said Mahecic.

The Chinese government, Burma's strongest ally, issued a rare rebuke to the ruling junta last week following the exodus of refugees across its border, urging it to "properly deal with its domestic issue".

A subsequent statement from the foreign ministry appeared to placate growing tension between the Beijing and Naypyidaw, stressing that border issues were the joint responsibility of the two countries.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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