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August 29, 2009

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Thousands flee to China after Myanmar unrest

FRESH fighting has erupted between Myanmar government forces and an armed ethnic group in the remote northeast, forcing tens of thousands to flee across the border into China's Yunnan Province.

China called on Myanmar to maintain stability in the border region, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that between 10,000 and 30,000 civilians had fled the conflict.

"We also urge Myanmar to protect the security and legal rights of Chinese citizens in Myanmar," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said yesterday on the ministry's Website.

Thousands have fled this month from Kokang in Myanmar's Shan State after clashes there, which followed the deployment of government troops in the area, home to a large number of ethnic Chinese.

Fighting flared on Thursday, leading residents from the Myanmar side to panic and flood in large numbers into the southwest province bordering Myanmar, according to a news Website run by the Yunnan Daily.

A Chinese man in his 40s, who fled back to the Chinese border town of Nansan after running a grocery in Kokang for over 10 years, told Reuters that at least 10 civilians have been killed.

"They were not willing to abandon all they had worked for in Myanmar in the past decade and refused to flee, and then they were killed," said the man, surnamed Cao.

"I can still hear the thunder of guns today," Cao said, adding that all his property in Myanmar, which he valued at hundreds of thousands of yuan, had been stolen.

Refugees were being steered to seven collection points in Nansan, the main one holding more than 5,000 people, to receive instant noodles, water and temporary housing, a local source said.

Myanmar's central government has rarely exerted authority in Kokang and essentially ceded control to a local militia after signing a cease-fire with it two decades ago.

But tensions between the government and the Kokang people have been rising in recent months, as the government tries to consolidate its control of the country and ensure stability ahead of national elections next year.


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