China protests over shelling as Myanmar battles insurgents

BEIJING (Reuters) - China repeated demands on Tuesday for Myanmar to take steps to prevent fighting with rebels from spilling over the border after more shells fell on Chinese territory during counter-insurgency operations.

China was infuriated last month after five people were killed by stray bombs falling into the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan during fighting between Myanmar's government forces and rebels.

Tens of thousands of people, many of them ethnic Chinese, have fled to China to escape the fighting in Myanmar's northeastern Kokang region.

"Recently, some shells from Myanmar have fallen into China causing damage to property, but fortunately no injuries or deaths," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing, without giving the exact date.

"China has already lodged stern representations with Myanmar and demanded they earnestly take effective steps to prevent this from happening again," he added.

"Myanmar said they will try severely restrain the relevant personnel to prevent it from happening again."

Hong said that President Xi Jinping met Shwe Mann, chairman of Myanmar's ruling party Union Solidarity and Development Party, in Beijing on Monday, and repeated a call for peace along the border.

"China hopes that the relevant parties can calm the situation as soon as possible to return the border to normal order," Hong added.

The main rebel group in Kokang is called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), which is led by ethnic Chinese commander Peng Jiasheng.

Myanmar government soldiers have been battling rebels who were dug in as close as 500 meters from the Chinese border, Myanmar's Information Ministry said on Monday.

MNDAA spokesman Tun Myat Lin told Reuters that they will send representatives to a meeting with ethnic minority rebels groups due to take place in May in Pangsan, the headquarters of the powerful United Wa State Army, on the frontier with China.

Ethnic armed groups will discuss a national ceasefire agreement that was thrashed out after more than a year of talks with the military, but has yet to be signed.

The government has refused to include the MNDAA in negotiations.

The MNDAA was formed from remnants of the Communist Party of Burma, a powerful China-backed guerrilla force that battled the Myanmar government until it splintered in 1989.

The group struck a truce with the government which lasted until 2009, when government troops took over their region in a conflict that pushed tens of thousands of refugees into Yunnan.