BEIJING - Thousands of people have been forced to flee Myanmar into the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan following fighting between Myanmar's army and insurgents, the Chinese government said, repeating a call for restraint.
The fighting and heavy casualties are a setback for Myanmar's efforts to forge a nationwide ceasefire and end a patchwork of insurgencies that have bedevilled the former Burma since shortly after its independence in 1948.
The clashes in Shan State in the northeast between the army and a group called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) have alarmed China, which fears an influx of villagers fleeing violence and called this week for peace on the border.
In a statement released late on Monday on an official provincial news website, the Yunnan government said that since Feb. 9 there had been more than 30,000 trips by border residents both into and out of China, implying multiple crossings by some people depending on how the fighting ebbs and flows.
It was the first time the government had put a number on how many refugees it was having to deal with.
Authorities are providing humanitarian assistance, but have also stepped up patrols to ensure the border is kept under control, the Yunnan government said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Tuesday repeated a call for a ceasefire. "We want to use this opportunity to once again call on all sides involved in the clashes in Myanmar to exercise restraint and avoid the situation escalating further to ensure peace and stability of the border, and especially to avoid affecting security on the Chinese side," she told reporters.
The MNDAA was formerly part of the Communist Party of Burma, a powerful China-backed guerrilla force that battled the Myanmar government until the group splintered in 1989.
Fighting between the rebels and the army in 2009 pushed tens of thousands of refugees into southwestern China, angering the government in Beijing.