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Relief camp in China swells as thousands flee conflict in Myanmar

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Refugees who fled fighting in neighbouring Myanmar stand in a Chinese disaster relief tent camp in the town of Nansan, Yunnan province, China on Sunday.

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Reuters, Nansan :
Within earshot of mortar fire echoing from beyond a ring of hills, a sprawling relief camp in Southwestern China is swelling steadily after fighting erupted last week between a rebel ethnic army in Myanmar and government troops just across the border.
In a recent Reuters visit to the rugged area in southwestern Yunnan province, aid workers and those displaced expressed fears of a more violent and protracted conflict than a previous flare-up in the Kokang region in early 2015.
"Every day, more people come," said Li Yinzhong, an aid manager in the camp, gesturing at the mostly Han Chinese refugees from Myanmar's Kokang region trudging through the reddish mud earth around rows of large blue huts where they sleep on nylon tarpaulin sheets.
"We will look after them until they decide they want to go back."
Blue disaster relief tents provided by the Chinese also dotted the terraced sugarcane, maize and tea terraces flanking the mountainous winding road to Nansan. The town, close to the Kokang region of Myanmar's Shan State, is providing refuge for a stream of refugees that Chinese authorities estimate number more than 20,000.
The violence is a blow to efforts by Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with Myanmar's ethnic minorities, some of them in rebellions spanning decades.
The conflict is also fraying ties between China and Myanmar, which Beijing has hoped could be a key gateway in its multi-pronged "One Belt One Road" strategy to promote economic links between China and Europe.  
Kokang has close ties to China. The vast majority are ethnic Chinese speaking a Chinese dialect and using the yuan as currency.
The Kokang began fleeing when the rebel Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) launched a surprise raid on Myanmar police and military targets in the town of Laukkai, resulting in the deaths of 30 people on March 6.
The Myanmar military has launched "56 waves of small and large clashes", using cannons, armored vehicles and heavy weapons over the past two months, according to a statement published by the military on March 6 after the attack.

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