x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

China tents dismantled as refugees return to Myanmar

China dismantled temporary housing for refugees from Myanmar today as most headed back to homes and looted shops across the border in Kokang.

NANSAN, CHINA // China dismantled temporary housing for refugees from Myanmar today as most headed back to homes and looted shops across the border in Kokang, where the Myanmar army fought an armed militia last week. About two-thirds of the refugees who had fled to the Chinese border town of Nansan had left by today, with the remainder packing and chatting while rows of blue tents were dismantled. Buses had ferried many of them to the nearby border the day before. China had never officially declared the Myanmar and Chinese citizens fleeing the ethnic Chinese enclave of Kokang as refugees, but had provided food, water and temporary housing to about 37,000 people.

The fighting broke out when Myanmar deployed troops to disarm ethnic insurgents. Analysts say the aim was to neutralise the threat the militias posed to an election next year, the first to be held by the junta in two decades. Many of the refugees have turned to relatives on the Chinese side of the border, while others who were returning indicated they might be back should violence flare again.

"We are afraid of the Myanmar military. I am not sure whether they will try to rule over us," said Yuan Zhishao, 41, a Myanmar citizen. "They do not know how to speak Mandarin, so we can't communicate with them." Many refugees remained pessimistic about what they would find upon their return. "My friends say there are still not many people in there and most of the shops have been ransacked, although some have been spared," said Peng Zhiqiang, 38, a Chinese businessman from Hunan, who started a clothing store in Myanmar a year ago.

"All my things are gone, so there's no point in me staying there anymore. It is also not safe. Everything is gone, so I will wrap up my business there." Chinese border guards prevented some Chinese citizens from crossing into Myanmar today, while allowing Myanmar citizens to return with their plastic bags of belongings. * Reuters