More than 30,000 people have fled Burma’s restive Kokang autonomous zone in the aftermath of an attack by the region’s dominant ethnic armed group on the administrative capital Laogai earlier this month, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Of that total, over 20,000 have crossed the border into neighbouring China’s Yunnan province, with the rest either internally displaced to other locations in Shan State or part of a contingent of more than 10,000 migrant workers that have left Kokang to return to homes elsewhere in Burma.
The 6 March attack by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army targeted police and a handful of casinos in the town of Laogai, capital of the autonomous Kokang enclave in northern Shan State. Fighting between the MNDAA and Burmese security forces has continued in the surrounding countryside in the weeks since.
Dozens have been killed on both sides of the conflict, according to the government.
Speaking to DVB, one local resident in the Chinese town of Nansan, across the border from Laogai, said the number of refugees who had fled the fighting was significantly higher than the latest OCHA estimates.
“There are a lot of refugees — over 30,000 at the 125th [Border Post] near where I live and more further at the 123rd and 127th [border posts] — no less than 50,000 people in total, which is about half the population in Kokang,” said the resident, Wan Aik Tin.
He said Chinese authorities were compiling a list of refugees and have provided them with food in the form of a bag of rice for each family of more than three people.
Significant fighting between the MNDAA and government troops last flared in February 2015 and continued intermittently in the following months, after the MNDAA similarly staged a coordinated assault on Laogai. The group is part of the Northern Alliance, a coalition involving three other ethnic armed groups, though the MNDAA’s latest strike against Laogai appears to have been unilateral.
“This isn’t as bad as back in 2015,” said Wan Aik Tin. “This time around, the fighting is confined to an area that covered about one-third of the border area so it is not as bad.”
Locals in Nansan said the fighting in Laogai appeared to simmer down over the past week but reported still hearing the sound of occasional gunfire across the border.
Over the weekend, state media reported that the MNDAA launched attacks on Friday that involved high-calibre rockets from positions along the border, striking four locations and destroying one home that was not inhabited.