China says key pipeline safe despite Myanmar fighting

BEIJING, March 10 Sat Mar 10, 2012 5:43am EST

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BEIJING, March 10 (Reuters) - A Chinese oil pipeline being built through Myanmar has not been affected by fighting between Myanmar forces and rebels, a Chinese security official said on Saturday, adding that China had been trying to help find a solution to the conflict.

A 17-year-old ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the Myanmar's most powerful rebel groups, broke down last June sending Kachins fleeing across the long border with China into tent settlements.

Northern Myanmar's Kachin State is of strategic importance to China and sustained conflict could have an impact on its plans to use the region as a conduit for energy to its southwest provinces.

Construction of twin oil and gas pipeline from the Bay of Bengal, through Kachin State, to China's Yunnan province is underway and the region is home to several hydropower projects exporting electricity to China.

"Lots of Chinese companies have invested a great deal in Myanmar, especially in the oil pipeline which passes through the Kachin State area," Yunnan's security chief Meng Sutie said on the sidelines of China's annual meeting of parliament.

"As far as I know, Myanmar's central government and the Kachin regional government have a positive, supportive attitude towards the building of this pipeline," he added.

"At present, construction is proceeding smoothly and there have been no outstanding problems. The Kachin government, and the central government, have been cooperating well and effectively with us on its building."

The KIA, seeking autonomy in Myanmar, sent a delegation to meet Myanmar negotiators in the Yunnan border town of Ruili this week to try to agree on terms to end the fighting that has displaced an estimated 50,000 people.

"The Yunnan government, in accordance with a request from the central government, is proactively pushing for both sides to find a peaceful resolve their problems, and is proactively engaged in mediation," Meng said.

"We are happy to see that both sides have been in contact with each other. We are providing whatever services we can," he added. "What we have seen is that there has been progress. But the Kachin problem is a long-standing one."

China told Myanmar last month to better secure the border but it denies the existence of the refugees, who are an embarrassment to a government which enjoys close ties with Myanmar and has stood by it for years in the face of Western sanctions.

But Meng said the Yunnan government had been providing humanitarian aid to the displaced.

"We believe that on the basis of consensus reached by the Chinese and Myanmar governments, and between our regional government and the Kachin organisation, we will appropriately deal with the issue of refugees coming in," he added.

Meng said at most there were 3,000 Kachins seeking refuge in China, though Kachin groups have put the number at about 10,000.

The European Union and the United States have made peace deals with ethnic minority rebels a pre-requisite for lifting sanctions on the former Burma, put in place after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988.

Some rebel groups have fought the government since shortly after independence from Britain in 1948. (Editing by Robert Birsel)

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