YANGON/SHANGHAI • Myanmar's eight-month-old government faces a fresh crisis after four ethnic armed groups attacked security forces on the northern border with China, prompting Beijing to put the Chinese army on high alert.
Eight people were killed and 29 wounded when a coalition of northern rebels attacked military and police outposts and a business centre near an important trading hub on the border on Sunday, the government said yesterday.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said a stray bullet from the fighting had wounded a Chinese resident and Beijing has lodged a protest.
"The Chinese army is on high alert and will take the necessary measures to safeguard the country's sovereignty and safety, as well as protect the lives and property of Chinese citizens living along the border," a statement from the ministry said.
China also said it was providing shelter for some people who fled across the frontier to escape fighting in the towns of Muse and Kutkai, in Myanmar's north-eastern Shan state.
The sudden escalation of fighting comes as the government grapples with a conflict in north-western Rakhine state that has sent hundreds of Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh across the border, posing a new challenge to Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who swept to power last year on promises of national reconciliation.
In an important realignment of ethnic armed forces, one of Myanmar's most powerful militias, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), joined three smaller groups that have been in a stand-off with the Myanmar military since clashes on the border last year.
The fighting last year pitted the army against the predominantly ethnic Chinese Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and its allies, the Ta'ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army.
The three groups said they had joined with the KIA to attack the military over the weekend.
The fighting threatened to derail whatever progress has been made by Ms Suu Kyi since she organised a major peace conference with most ethnic armed groups in August.
One of the government's peace negotiators, Mr Hla Maung Shwe, told Reuters the fresh violence may severely delay the stuttering peace process.
"It was really regrettable that civilian areas have come under attack. This is likely to further complicate the peace process," he said.