- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

BEIJING | China has told Myanmar to put an end to fighting with an ethnic militia that has sent 10,000 people fleeing across their border, a strong response underscoring the communist country’s concerns about potential instability.

People were continuing to cross from Myanmar’s Kokang region into China’s Yunnan province late Friday, according to eyewitnesses reached by phone. Sounds of artillery and gunfire across the border in Myanmar rang out throughout the day, they said.

Chinese authorities were housing the new arrivals at seven locations and providing medical services, according to a Yunnan government statement.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said China hopes Myanmar can “properly deal with its domestic issue to safeguard the regional stability in the China-Myanmar border area.”

Myanmar must also ensure the safety and legal rights of Chinese citizens in that country, Mr. Jiang added in a statement posted on the ministry’s Web site.

China maintains close ties with Myanmar’s ruling military junta and usually takes care not to entangle itself in the regime’s affairs. Beijing has consistently offered Myanmar diplomatic support based on its avowed policy of nonintervention, while China’s border trade and oil and gas deals have thrown an economic lifeline to the ruling generals.

Details of the fighting in Myanmar were murky, although reports say militants who have long fought for autonomy for Myanmar’s ethnically Chinese Kokang minority attacked police near the town of Laogai on Thursday, killing several officers.

Myanmar’s military rulers and the state-controlled press made no comment on the situation.

Myanmar’s central government has rarely exerted control in Kokang - a mostly ethnic Chinese region in the northern Shan state - and essentially ceded control to a local militia after signing a cease-fire with them two decades ago. The region is one of several areas along Myanmar’s borders where minority militias are seeking autonomy from the central government.

But tensions between the government and the Kokang people have been rising in recent months, as the junta tries to consolidate its control of the country and ensure stability ahead of national elections next year.

The latest confrontation apparently began earlier this month after militia leaders refused to allow their guerrillas to be incorporated into a border guard force under Myanmar army command.

Soldiers raided the home of militia leader Peng Jiashen on Aug. 8, and Mr. Peng’s forces began mobilizing. Mr. Peng’s troops were forced out of Laogai on Tuesday by government soldiers and a breakaway Kokang faction seeking to overthrow Mr. Peng.

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