China sends refugees back to Kachin war zone: rebels

China has pushed thousands of refugees from Myanmar's Kachin minority back across the border into a province wracked by fighting between government troops and ethnic guerillas, the rebels said Friday.

Around 2,000 Kachin refugees have returned from China's Yunnan province this week and languish in camps near the border between the two nations, La Nan of the Kachin Independence Oragnisation (KIO) told AFP, adding more were expected to cross.

"Chinese authorities in Yunnan have pressured them many times to go back to Burma (Myanmar)," he said, speaking from the rebel capital of Laiza.

"About 2,000 have returned and are in camps on the Kachin side of the border. There were 5,000 refugees on the China side... they will all come back," he said.

The KIO's armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army, said it had crossed the border to guide refugees back to Myanmar on China's request.

"They (China) said they do not accept war refugees. We started moving refugees from their territory on August 22... we have moved about 1800 refugees in three days," Sai Li a KIA official said.

Continued fighting between Myanmar's government and KIA forces means many of the refugees cannot return to their homes, Sai Li said, adding "people have no idea whether they should go back to their places as the situation is not so good."

Tens of thousands of people have fled the fighting since June last year when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and rebels collapsed, with an estimated 5,000 seeking refuge in neighbouring China.

Several recent rounds of talks to resolve the conflict in the country's far north have been overshadowed by ongoing battles.

Confirming the refugee return, New York-based Human Rights Watch criticised China for rejecting displaced people, saying violence awaits them in their home towns in Kachin.

"China is flouting its international legal obligations by forcibly returning Kachin refugees to an active conflict zone rife with Burmese army abuses," said HRW's Bill Frelick.

"China should urgently change course and provide temporary protection for the refugees in Yunnan Province."

Civil war has gripped parts of Myanmar since independence in 1948. But Myanmar's reformist government has agreed ceasefires with several ethnic rebel groups as part of reforms since coming to power last year.

Experts say clashes in Kachin, which come despite a presidential order to the army to stop fighting, raise questions about whether the leader exerts full control over local military units.

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