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August 31, 2009

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Rebels join exodus to China from Myanmar

HUNDREDS of rebels have fled clashes in northeastern Myanmar, surrendering their weapons and uniforms to Chinese border police and crossing to safety after several days of skirmishes with Myanmar government troops.

The United Nations and Chinese officials say more than 30,000 civilian refugees have streamed into southwest China's Yunnan Province to escape the fighting, which broke out last week after hundreds of Myanmar soldiers moved into Kokang, a mostly ethnic Chinese region run by a local militia.

By yesterday most of the Kokang rebels had surrendered their arms to Chinese authorities upon entering the country, but it was not clear whether their leader was among them. They also gave over their green uniforms in exchange for blue cotton tops and pants.

"There was no way we would win," said one former rebel, Ri Chenchuan, as he shopped for new clothes in the few shops of Meng Peng, a mountain town about 20 kilometers from the border.

Myanmar's government said yesterday evening that three days of fighting had killed 26 government forces and at least eight rebels. It said the fighting had ended and "the region has now regained peace."

Meng Sutie, police chief of Yunnan Province, said yesterday that 37,000 border inhabitants comprising both Burmese and Chinese had fled into China after armed conflicts in Myanmar broke out last week.

One Chinese citizen was killed and two others injured by three shells that were fired into the Chinese territory. The conflicts in Myanmar have also killed a Chinese and injured 13 others in that country, Meng said.

Myanmar had apologized for the Chinese casualties after China made a stern representation, Meng told a news briefing in Kunming, Yunnan's capital city.

In Meng Peng, several men told The Associated Press they turned in weapons to Chinese officials.

One, Li Jiayun, said he and others decided to retreat "so that more civilians didn't get hurt."

"The Kokang army has collapsed. We're all on the run," said Chen Bo, a refugee who arrived at the Chinese border town of Nansan yesterday.

Chen told Reuters that he was a Chinese national who had been fighting for the Kokang forces for money.

"People may return to Kokang, but there will have to be the right conditions, there will have to be negotiations so we feel safe," said Chen.

The UN said up to 30,000 people had poured into Nansan from Kokang. Chinese authorities were providing food, shelter and medical care, it said.


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