BEIJING (Reuters) - China has forcibly returned scores of ethnic Kachins who have fled Myanmar because of civil war, putting them at risk of armed violence and abuse by Myanmar's army, a human rights group said on Friday.
Up to 10,000 Kachins have sought refuge in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan after fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Myanmar's government flared up in the middle of 2011 following a 17-year truce, according to aid groups.
Diplomats say the conflict in Kachin state is one of the biggest tests for Myanmar's new civilian government's reform effort. Myanmar's government is in talks with the KIA and more than a dozen other ethnic minority rebel groups, to try to end all its decades-old conflicts.
Chinese authorities forcibly returned at least 1,000 Kachin refugees to Myanmar's northernmost Kachin state in mid-August, where they face a shortfall of aid, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
China plans to deport another 4,000 refugees to Myanmar, also known as Burma, imminently, the rights group said.
"China is flouting its international legal obligations by forcibly returning Kachin refugees to an active conflict zone rife with Burmese army abuses," said Bill Frelick, director of the refugee programme at Human Rights Watch.
Frelick called on China to "urgently change course and provide temporary protection for the refugees".
China's Foreign Ministry and the Yunnan government were not immediately available for comment. In June, it denied similar accusations by Human Rights Watch that it had forced back into Myanmar the Kachins, saying the people were not refugees.
Chinese authorities have failed to provide the refugees temporary protection or aid, even as they have given sanctuary to an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 Kachin refugees in Yunnan, according to Human Rights Watch.
The rights group also said the Chinese government has denied United Nations and international humanitarian agencies much-needed access to these refugees.
While China has strong business and trade ties with Myanmar, it has long looked with wariness at its poor and unstable southern neighbor, and has repeatedly called on the country to ensure stability along their vast and remote border. (Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee)