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China on Sunday condemned fighting in Burma between Burmese government troops and ethnic militants near the Chinese border, which had caused people to flee into Chinese territory.
Burma’s military frequently clashes with several groups who say they are fighting for greater autonomy for ethnic minorities in the area, through which much of Burma’s foreign trade flows.
The Burmese government said on Saturday that ethnic insurgents in Burma killed 19 people, including four members of the security forces, in a major attack near the main border gate with China.
Fifteen civilians, including two women, were killed, and 20 were wounded, according to a government spokesman.
The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), made up of fighters from the Ta’ang or Palaung ethnic group, said the group had attacked a casino run by militiamen and a Burma Army post on the outskirts of border town Muse, a few hundred metres from a river that separates Burma’s northern Shan State and China’s Yunnan province.
China’s embassy in Burma said in a statement that the conflict had sent stray bullets into China, along with an unidentified number of people seeking refuge.
“China’s embassy in Myanmar condemns this violent incident, and feels pained for the relevant innocent people who were harmed,” the embassy said in a statement, adding that it had made “solemn representations” to Burma’s government.
China called for all parties to “exercise restraint,” implement a ceasefire, and prevent the situation from escalating, so as to restore peace to the China-Burma border region.
Violence on the Burma side of the border has in recent years sent thousands fleeing through the rugged mountain terrain into China, where the Chinese government at times has set up relief camps.
In 2017, Chinese authorities estimated a flare-up of violence to have sent more than 20,000 refugees across the border, and fighting in 2009 and 2015 displaced tens of thousands of people. Ordnance has occasionally strayed into China and killed people.
Such conflict has frayed ties between China and Burma, which Beijing has hoped could be a key gateway in its multi-pronged “One Belt One Road” strategy to promote regional economic links.