China – Refugees who fled to China from armed clashes in northeast Myanmar are weighing a return to farms, homes and shops against fear of the Myanmar army, while both governments asserted that normality was returning.

By Monday, Myanmar troops appeared to have won control of Kokang, a heavily ethnic Chinese enclave controlled by local rulers and their militia, after weeks of fighting that forced tens of thousands of residents to flee to neighboring China.

The Myanmar government said on Sunday the situation had returned to normal, adding that 26 government troops or police had been killed and 47 wounded.

Eight members of the armed Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, which has been fighting government troops, were killed, it said.

The conflict was triggered after Myanmar deployed troops in the area to disarm insurgents as part of plans to get ethnic groups to take part in elections next year, the first in two decades, exiled Myanmar groups say. Tens of thousands of people have since streamed over the border.

The Chinese government has fed and sheltered 13,000 of the 37,000 refugees in Nansan and other towns near the border, according to provincial figures, but it has shown no eagerness to host them for long.

If they want to go back, we'll let them go, Yan Qitian, director of the refugee camp in Nansan. If they feel unsafe after leaving, they can come back.

China is one of Myanmar's few diplomatic backers and has deflected pressure from Western governments over the military government's tough steps against pro-democracy campaigners. Keeping large numbers of the refugees, who include fleeing members of the defeated Kokang militia, could rile Myanmar.

Many of the refugees, hunkered down in blue tents, said they felt torn between a desire to return to family, businesses and homes and fear of ill-treatment by Myanmar government troops.

Many of us are poor, so we can't afford to leave home for too long, otherwise we might lose everything, said Zhou Er, a native of Kokang who had fled to Nansan.

But if we go back we need to be sure that there won't be any more fighting or attacks on us. I don't trust the Myanmar army.

Forcing back refugees -- most of them ethnic Chinese who speak Mandarin -- could stoke anger and even protests, said Yao Fu, a Chinese national who said he has run a medical clinic in Kokang for 10 years.

Many of us are disappointed that the Chinese government didn't do more to protect us when the fighting broke out, said Yao, strolling near the border gate in Nansan. If they make us go back before our safety is assured, people will be very angry again...We don't trust the Myanmar army.


Kokang has long served as a freewheeling buffer zone between China and Myanmar, and drug trafficking and gambling underpin the enclave's economy.

At the border crossing, Chinese guards were allowing Myanmar citizens to cross back, but barring Chinese citizens. Dozens of people lingered on the Chinese side, waiting for relatives to turn up from quick return trips to retrieve belongings.

China's public security chief Meng Jianzhu has gone to the border to ensure stability there, the official People's Daily said late on Sunday, while Chinese journalists said their papers had been told not to publish independent reports on the issue.

MNDAA chief Peng Jiasheng, also known as Phone Kyar Shin, has retreated to a safe location with his aides, his wife told the Global Times, a Chinese paper, late on Sunday.

Some refugees said they would welcome an end to the militias that have long controlled Kokang. But most said the Myanmar army would be an alien and untrusted presence in their homeland.

The Myanmar Army aren't people; they're like the Japanese army, said one Kokang resident, Zhang Hui. In World War Two, this part of Asia endured a brutal invasion by Japan.

His loud words drew cheers of agreement from other Kokang residents around him.

The Myanmar troops steal, trash, loot and shoot, continued Zhang. Kokang was run by (ethnic) Chinese, but now it's under their control.

(Additional reporting by Royston Chan in Nansan and Huang Yan in Beijing; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)