China says more than 20000 from Myanmar seek refuge across border

China says more than 20000 from Myanmar seek refuge across border

Thousands of people have fled clashes between the Myanmar military and ethnic rebels along the border with China, a Chinese official said, as fighting threatened leader Aung San Suu Kyi's top goal of reaching peace with minorities.

In an echo of 2015 when Laukkai was also the scene of intense fighting, some families fled south to the Shan state town of Lashio, taking with them rumours of a looming army "clearance operation".

"China supports Myanmar's peace process and hopes all sides can use peaceful means to resolve their differences via dialogue and consultation", Geng said.

"I want to urge everyone to abandon the armed attacks that cause death and destruction for local ethnic groups and return to the peace table and join the peace journey that all ethnic citizens have been longing for", the statement said.

The MNDAA attack on Laukkai-the first in the town since a large offensive in February 2015-killed at least five policemen and five local residents and sent thousands fleeing across the border to China.

Scores of people died in 2015 when MNDAA troops entered the Kokang self-administered region.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said today that China condemns the fighting in northern Myanmar and calls for an immediate cease-fire.

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The rebels, from the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), share close cultural links with China and Beijing is believed to have some influence over the fighters.

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".

The latest clashes are in northeastern Shan state, which has seen repeated bouts of heavy fighting between the army and a band of well-armed ethnic minority militias since November, undercutting a government peace bid.

The attack follows on the heels of a meeting last week where the country's Nobel laureate de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged a delegation of ethnic armed groups to sign a cease-fire agreement and participate in peace talks.

"In the Laukai attack, the Tatmadaw [military] could seize 20 burnt bodies of the insurgent group, 13 kinds of weapons including two RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and related ammunition", said a statement published by the army-run Myawady newspaper.

An army source told AFP fighting was continuing as darkness fell.

Observers believe Beijing holds some sway over the ethnic fighters and has a key role to play in peace talks that Myanmar's de facto leader Ms Suu Kyi has tried to revive since coming to power previous year.

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