Hundreds of Chinese 'trapped by fighting' in Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar - Hundreds of Chinese citizens are trapped in northern Myanmar as fighting rages between government troops and ethnic Kachin rebels, a state-backed Chinese newspaper reported Monday.

Jade traders, lumberjacks and gold mine developers are among those trapped between armies in the resource-rich region of Hpakant, according to the Global Times, which quoted an anonymous intelligence officer working for an unnamed rebel group.

The officer said that the Chinese workers were among 2,000 people caught in the crossfire. Some have taken refuge in local peoples’ homes or hidden in forests, other unnamed sources told the newspaper.

Chinese officials are still trying to verify the newspaper’s claims, and may have “lost track” of some Chinese nationals because the border is poorly controlled, the report added.

Fighting between Myanmar’s army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) erupted Thursday after the KIA briefly took the local transport minister hostage.

General Gunhtang Gam Shawng, the KIA’s chief of staff, told the Global Times the rebels were willing to offer Chinese citizens passage back across the border, “if conditions allow.”

But some don’t have documents and may face difficulty returning to China as Myanmar has stationed extra soldiers at the Kambaiti Pass border crossing, the newspaper said.

Although no deaths or injuries have been reported among the Chinese, food and water are limited and there are no medical supplies, the report said, quoting the intelligence officer.

Kachin, a mountainous state bordering India and China, has been ravaged by fighting since an uneasy 17-year cease-fire ended in 2011. Since then, more than 100,000 people have fled their homes amid mortar explosions and gunfire.

China is deeply invested in natural resource projects in the state, including hydroelectric dams, precious gem mines and oil and gas pipelines. 

Its role in the region is conflicted, with Chinese politicians and businesses courting both the Myanmar government and Kachin rebels.

Myanmar’s rulers began rebuilding ties with the U.S. and other Western nations in 2011 following half a century of military rule and isolation -- a move that led to Chinese concerns of waning influence in the strategically important Southeast Asian nation. 

Meanwhile, officials in China’s Yunnan province -- which borders Kachin -- are keen for businesses to exploit rich reserves of natural resources including jade and timber, and rely on cooperation with rebel forces.

Myanmar’s nominally civilian government pledged to secure a nationwide peace deal with 17 ethnic armed groups after taking power in 2011.

But President Thein Sein’s deadline for signing the agreement has been repeatedly pushed back as negotiators struggle to reach an agreement.

China began mediating in peace talks between the KIA and Myanmar’s government in early 2013 after an influx of refugees began arriving in Yunnan.

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency