20,000 flee Myanmar’s civil war: China

A sign at Mandalay Palace stresses the military’s role in society.

More than 20,000 Burmese refugees have fled into China to avoid fighting, according to Beijing, as Myanmar’s government gears up for a major peace conference.

Thousands entered camps along the border and were receiving humanitarian assistance, Beijing’s ministry of foreign affairs said.

Earlier this week, about 30 people were killed in the border region after ethnic-minority armies launched a surprise raid on government forces. Artillery was used in Laukkai town in the Kokang region in northern Shan State.

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is planning to hold the second instalment of her so-called 21st-century Panglong peace conference this month.

China’s foreign spokesman Geng Shuang said aid was being provided to anyone trying to “temporarily avoid the war” and called for an immediate ceasefire, adding that Beijing supported Suu Kyi’s peace process.

He called for a peaceful solution through dialogue to “prevent further escalation” and “to restore peace and stability to the border areas”.

On Monday, the powerful, ethnic-Chinese Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) ambushed while dressed in police uniforms, the authorities said.

The attack targeted police and military posts while a separate MNDAA group subsequently attacked other sites in Laukkai.

Five civilians, five police officers and at least 20 rebel fighters were reportedly killed, although the authorities often provide unreliable accounts.

Kokang residents speak a Chinese dialect and use the yuan.

Despite the gloomy security situation, the British ambassador says Myanmar could be the next Vietnam or Thailand with the potential to achieve 10-per-cent economic growth.

Andrew Patrick said Myanmar had to overcome challenges, including power supply shortages, lack of policy clarity and high business costs.

“Growth takes time,” the ambassador said. “The main thing is you’ve got to go at the fastest pace you can … 6 per cent to 8 per cent, even 10-per-cent growth going forward is perfectly realisable.”

Myanmar began democratic and economic reforms in 2011 to disrupt the state-owned monopolies. The International Monetary Fund estimated that the economy was among the fastest growing in the world last year with 8.1-per-cent growth.

“On the financial sector, this is a blank sheet,” Patrick told the Bloomberg event, “an untapped market. It’s like Vietnam 20 years ago.”

One of the three current mobile providers, Telenor Myanmar, had formed a joint venture with Yoma Bank to start “Wave Money”, which looking to reach the majority of the population who had no bank account, CEO Lars Erik Tellmann said. Wave Money would reach rural areas where there were no banks, the Telenor boss said.

Picture credit: Flickr