China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday more than 20,000 people from Burma are seeking refuge in China from fighting in northern Shan State, as fighting threatens Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s top goal of reaching peace with minorities.
China is providing humanitarian assistance while taking steps to ensure peace and tranquility in the border region, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
He reiterated a call for all sides involved to “exercise restraint and immediately cease fire” to keep clashes from escalating.
“China supports Myanmar’s peace process and hopes all sides can use peaceful means to resolve their differences via dialogue and consultation,” Geng told a regular news briefing.
Stray shells and bullets had fallen into China territory, injuring one Chinese person living there and causing some other damage, he added, but did not elaborate.
About 30 people were killed on Monday in the attack staged by ethnic Chinese insurgents in the town of Laogai, 800 kilometres (500 miles) northeast of commercial hub Rangoon, prompting thousands to seek refuge across the border in camps in China.
Suu Kyi’s nearly one-year-old government is increasingly besieged by ethnic rebels, grappling with an alliance of militias in Burma’s north and a new insurgency by Rohingya Muslims rebelling against decades of persecution in the northwest.
“Thousands of people have crossed into China,” a Chinese government official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said earlier this week.
Hotel workers in Nan San, a Chinese town abutting Burma’s restive Kokang region where the fighting is taking place, described disoriented people moving rapidly into the town.
“There are so many people here and the traffic is chaotic. There are thousands of refugees here and they look frightened. Some of them brought suitcases with them, while some only brought some light clothes,” said a staff member at the Golden Star hotel in Nan San who identified himself by his surname Li.
The 42-year-old owner of the Fuyuan Hotel, who identified himself by his surname Yang, said: “All we can do is to help them and give them food. Chinese people here are very worried about our safety.”
Yang compared the scenes to those in 2015, when tens of thousands escaped fighting between the army and the predominantly ethnic Chinese Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) — the same group that attacked on Monday.
The MNDAA is part of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of rebel groups also comprising one of Burma’s most powerful militias — the Kachin Independence Army — and two smaller groups that have been in a stand-off with the Burmese military since clashes in Kokang two years ago.
On the Burma side of the border, some 300 people were waiting earlier this week to be transferred to a camp for internally displaced people in the town of Chinshwehaw near Laogai, said Saw Shwe Myint, an official from the Myanmar Red Cross in Laogai.
“We are discussing with our partner organisations how to transfer these people to Chinshwehaw,” he said. About 200 people were transferred on Tuesday.
Those in the camp comprised local residents and migrant workers from other parts of Burma, Saw Shwe Myint said. “I do not hear the fighting right now but I heard shooting this morning,” he said Tuesday.
China called for an immediate ceasefire between the two sides on Tuesday, urging them to resolve their differences through peaceful means.