More Chinese flee Burma as Kokang remain stranded in China

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As Burma's military junta sends reinforcements into northern and southern Shan State, hundreds of Chinese immigrants continue to flee across the border into China's Yunnan Province, where tens of thousands of Kokang refugees have been stranded since early last week.

The New Light of Myanmar, a junta mouthpiece, reported on Friday that 9,304 ethnic-Chinese Kokang refugees had returned to the Kokang territory since August 29 and declared that "stability and peace" had been restored in the region.

However, according to the UN refugee agency and Chinese officials, as many as 37,000 Kokang refugees fled to the Chinese border towns of Nansan and Genma last week. More than 20,000 refugees are estimated to still be in temporary camps set up by local Chinese authorities.

Last week, Kokang refugees in Nansan told reporters that they were afraid to return home because they feared possible abuse by Burmese government troops.

Business in the Kokang capital of Laogai, which has long benefited from a booming border trade with China and substantial Chinese investment, has come almost to a standstill since junta troops seized control of the town on August 24. There were also reports of looting by Burmese troops, as well as harassment of local people.

Since the fall of Laogai, hundreds more refugees have fled from areas controlled by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) in Shan State.

Sources close to the UWSA said that dozens of Chinese vehicles were waiting at the border checkpoint near the Wa capital of Panghsang on Thursday to cross the Sino-Burmese border.

"About 50 cars owned by Chinese businessmen were stranded near the border bridge from Panghsang to China at the border gate controlled by the UWSA," a source said.

Observers said that the exodus of Chinese was probably due to a report on China's state-run Phoenix TV this week that said 700 Burmese troops with 20 tanks were heading to Wa-controlled areas in northern Shan State.

After the report was repeatedly aired on television, Mongla, a town in eastern Shan State controlled by the predominantly Chinese NDAA, became a virtual ghost town, said sources in the area.

In other parts of Shan State, especially Lashio in the north and Kengtung in the south, local residents said that there was a noticeable increase in the number of Burmese soldiers.

"These days we often hear that government soldiers are taking local people to work as forced porters, so I warn my children not to go out at night," said a man in Lashio.

There have also been reports that police in Rangoon have been looking for vehicles owned by Kokang leaders since their capital was overrun last Thursday.

"Traffic and riot police have been stopping expensive-looking cars and checking to see if they belong to Kokang. They have been quite aggressive in Thartharyar Township, where there are factories owned by the Kokang group," a Rangoon-based journalist told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

Meanwhile, as part of its propaganda offensive against former ceasefire groups in Shan State, the Burmese junta has ordered that all state-run media and a privately-owned weekly journal publish photos of casualties inflicted by the Kokang during skirmishes last week.

On the Sunday evening news, all Burmese television stations broadcast images of bodies of junta troops killed in the clashes, while The New Light of Myanmar and the privately owned Yangon Times published gruesome photos of alleged atrocities committed by the Kokang.

"It was very awful and unethical for the newspapers and TV stations to show such terrible pictures," said a teacher in Rangoon, adding that she felt such images should not be published for any reason.

The regime has also been highlighting the Kokang drug connection since its 20-year-old ceasefire agreement with the group broke down last week. On Friday, The New Light of Myanmar reported that more than 180,000 stimulant tablets, as well as precursor chemicals and drug-manufacturing equipment, were seized in the Kokang region on Thursday.