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Winter threatens refugees along Sino-Burma border

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The number of Burmese refugees arriving in Yunnan Province in China increased dramatically in January, according to relief workers in camps. As the weather turns colder, the camps are experiencing a shortage of bedding, food, shelter and medical supplies, said one aid worker.

He told Radio Free Asia (RFA) he went to one camp with 5,000 people in it. “I've heard that there are more than 10 camps in the area,” he was quoted as saying in an article published on Monday on the station’s news website. “There are camps in Nujiang, Ruili, and Longchuan as well.”

Asked if the Red Cross was helping with the relief effort, he said: “So far all the work has been done by Christian organizations inside China and efforts from nongovernment voluntary groups who are concerned with such things.”

The U.S.-based ChinaAid said that the situation is rapidly worsening, and warned of a potential humanitarian crisis in the area.

“Right now there are at least 25,000 refugees on the Chinese side of the border, the majority of them from the Jingpo ethnic group with Burmese nationality,” ChinaAid founder Bob Fu told RFA. He called on the international community to push for access to the area along the Sino-Burmese border and to donate basic supplies.

RFA, in calls to the Yingjiang County government civil affairs bureau, said it was not able to confirm the statements of a refugee crisis.

“I don't know about this,” a Chinese official was quoted as saying. “If I, a county government official, don't know about it, then how would the local people know about it?”

In a statement on its website, ChinaAid, a Christian-based NGO, said the situation in Kachin State in Burma would also get worse due to cold weather.

“With a shortage of warm clothes, nutritional foods, and medicines, the chance for the spread of epidemic diseases is high,” it said, warning that the Sino-Burmese border “could become the site of a humanitarian crisis.”

ChinaAid said clashes have been concentrated since January 1 in an area about 90 kilometers [56 miles] from China’s Yingjiang County and 170 kilometers from the border city of Ruili, both in southwest China’s Yunnan Province.

A statement said that around 25,000 of an estimated 40,000 refugees displaced along the border area had crossed unofficially into Yunnan.

On the Burmese side of the border, the Kachin Independence Army is believed to have put some 21,000 refugees in the Burmese border city of Laiza and 4,000 in the region of Maija Yang.

It said at least 1,500 people are still hiding in nearby forests, while more than 6,000 have taken temporary refuge in schools, churches and villages in recent months.