A leading human rights group is calling on Burma’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to raise rights issues, including the plight of forgotten refugees stranded in camps in China’s Yunnan Province, during her talks with Chinese leaders in Beijing this week.
In a statement released on Tuesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Burmese leader, who will begin a four-day state visit to Beijing today, not to ignore those displaced by conflict when she discusses the issue of how China can help Burma with its efforts to end decades of civil war.
“If China wants to further the nascent peace process, it’s crucial that the fate of these people gets serious attention,” HRW’s China director Sophie Richardson said in the press release.
The majority of the refugees in Yunnan are from the Kokang region in northern Shan State, where clashes between government troops and the rebel Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in February 2015 forced some 70,000 civilians to flee across the border into China.
The number still there is estimated to be as high as 27,000, although the UN refugee agency UNHCR, which has been denied access to the camps by the Chinese authorities, said that it could not confirm that figure.
“UNHCR has had no access to this group in China and thus has no information on their numbers or conditions,” the agency’s regional press officer Vivian Tan told DVB via email.
In addition to the displaced Kokang villagers, thousands of Kachin refugees who fled an ongoing conflict that began in 2011 are also still sheltering in Yunnan, according to the HRW statement.
David Mathieson, HRW’s senior researcher on Burma, called it unacceptable that the country’s new government has paid so little attention to those most affected by the long history of civil conflict that it is attempting to address through its ambitious peace efforts, dubbed the “21st Century Panglong Conference”.
“I think it is disgraceful they are talking about a big nationwide Panglong peace conference yet the very people who have suffered from the conflict are being ignored,” he said, speaking to DVB on Tuesday.
He added that there was no reason Suu Kyi couldn’t raise the issue of Kokang refugees in Yunnan when she meets with Chinese leaders, as she has used previous foreign trips to highlight similar problems.
“Having visited people along the Thai-Burma border, [she shouldn’t] be reluctant to raise these issues with the Chinese,” he said.
In the HRW statement released on Tuesday, Richardson also called on Suu Kyi to “use her platform and pro-democracy credentials to call for the release of fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo from prison in China”, noting that her failure to do so during a visit to China in June 2015 had “disappointed many Chinese democracy activists.”