Beijing urges ceasefire after deadly Myanmar border clashes

An army-linked militiaman securing a bridge in Muse, a border town in the north-eastern Shan state of Myanmar on Saturday. Clashes between Myanmar forces and ethnic rebels have left 19 dead.
An army-linked militiaman securing a bridge in Muse, a border town in the north-eastern Shan state of Myanmar on Saturday. Clashes between Myanmar forces and ethnic rebels have left 19 dead.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

YANGON • China yesterday condemned fighting on its border between Myanmar forces and ethnic rebels that has left 19 dead, mostly civilians, in some of the worst bloodshed on the restive frontier in recent years.

The fighting erupted on Saturday when ethnic minority insurgent groups, who are locked in a long-running battle with the Myanmar state, attacked security posts around Muse, a border town and trade hub in north-eastern Shan state.

A local resident said she heard gunfire through the night until early yesterday morning, with fear gripping a town that lives at the mercy of both government militias and ethnic armies fighting for more autonomy.

"We heard shooting the whole night until this morning around 6am... People are still frightened," said Ms Aye Aye.

The carnage, which also left at least 27 wounded, was one of the bloodiest days in recent years of a conflict that has hampered Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's attempts to forge nationwide peace.

The insurgency in the north-east - which is separate from the Rohingya crisis to the west - is one of some two dozen ethnic minority rebellions that have roiled Myanmar's border regions since independence in 1948.

Observers believe Beijing holds significant sway over the rebels near its border with Myanmar and is a key player in Ms Suu Kyi's faltering peace process.

The Chinese Embassy in Yangon yesterday condemned the clashes and said it had urged "relevant parties" to reach an immediate ceasefire.

The violence "made people from the Myanmar side flee across the Chinese border, and stray bullets have entered into Chinese territory", the statement added.

Clashes in the border region early last year sent more than 20,000 Myanmar refugees scrambling across the border into China's Yunnan province, raising tensions between the neighbours.

Saturday's attacks were blamed on the Kachin Independence Army and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, which claimed responsibility for the operation and apologised for the civilian deaths.

Mr Knut Ostby, the United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, expressed concern over the civilian deaths in Muse and called for swift aid deliveries to those affected. "The UN encourages all parties to redouble their efforts to advance the Peace Process," he said in a statement.

Ms Suu Kyi, the first civilian leader of the former junta-run country in decades, lacks control over security policy and the still-powerful military, which has retained key government posts in a delicate power-sharing arrangement.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2018, with the headline 'Beijing urges ceasefire after deadly Myanmar border clashes'. Print Edition | Subscribe