Chinese Authorities Arrest Myanmar Nationals Working Illegally in Border Areas

Chinese authorities have arrested more than 100 Myanmar nationals working illegally in Chinese border towns, as more young people head across the border to escape a dearth of job opportunities and fighting in war-torn Shan state, a Myanmar legal aid worker said Wednesday.

About 40 are ethnic Ta’ang youths from Namhsan and Hsipaw (also known as Thibaw) townships who were picked up in the Chinese towns of Ruili and Mengxiuxiang on Nov. 25 and 26, Mine Myo Aung from the Ta’ang Legal Assistance Organization told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

The laborers must pay about 100 yuan (U.S. $14) for weekly Chinese permits to work as masons and on sugar cane plantations, he said.

Authorities arrested the Myanmar nationals when they failed to renew their weekly permits, he said. The laborers were unable to leave their work sites in time to travel to towns to get new documents from the relevant immigration offices.

Mine Myo Aung also said that his group will request that local government officials in Muse, a Myanmar border town that serves as a trade hub between the two countries, push for the release of the workers.

As Myanmar’s largest ally and one of its top investors, China not only spends heavily on major infrastructure projects, but also serves as a mediator between ethnic armed groups and the powerful Myanmar military, which are engaged in hostilities in border areas of Shan and Kachin states.

China, which provided support to Myanmar to hold a third round of peace talks in July under the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government, says it firmly opposes any attempt to undermine peace and stability along the China-Myanmar border and any act deliberately obstructing Myanmar’s peace process.

But China is also believed by security experts to be the direct or indirect source of weapons for many of the ethnic armies fighting the Myanmar government.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that fighting between ethnic armies and Myanmar forces, or armed conflict between different ethnic armed groups, in Kachin and Shan states has displaced about 107,000 people during the past seven years.

The military blocks U.N. humanitarian aid from reaching civilians who live in ethnic areas not controlled by the Myanmar government.

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.