UN to resume work in northeastern Burma

Sept 17, 2009 (DVB), A United Nations relief agency is to resume work in the Kokang region of northeastern Burma after fierce fighting last month caused dozens of aid workers to flee.

All non-local staff of the World Food Programme (WFP) were withdrawn from Kokang in Shan state following fighting between Burmese troops and an armed Kokang ceasefire group.

"We cannot fully run our operation with the number of our local staff there, but we are aiming to go fully operational again next week," said WFP official Swe Swe Win told DVB yesterday.

The WFP have been distributing aid in Kokang since 2003 in collaboration with partner organisations such as World Vision and the Asia Medical Doctor Association.

Around 20 staff from WFP and partner organisations had been temporarily blocked by Burmese troops from leaving Laogai.

Roads had been shut and the aid workers were being kept in a UN compound in the town. WFP staff had been distributing food and helping Laogai locals in a poppy substitution programme.

State-run media in Burma has said that the situation has returned to normal in the region, with fighting brought to a halt. Around 37,000 refugees had fled across the border into China, but many were reportedly returning.

A local from the regional capital Laogai said however that the town is deserted and shops remain closed, despite local authorities urging people to return.

"Teachers are urging students to come back to school. People from the mainland Burma, who ran businesses in town, have gone back to their regions," he said, adding that businesses were suffering considerably.

"It's going to take time before everything is up and running again. Because the town is so empty, there has been looting taking place in unattended houses and shops."

The fighting pushed China to issue a rare rebuke to Burma, urging it to "properly deal with its domestic issue to safeguard the regional stability in the China-Myanmar [Burma] border area".

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

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