China on Friday urged the Myanmar government and rebels to resolve their dispute peacefully so that refugees who were driven across the Chinese border can go home as soon as possible.
The clashes in Shan State, in the northeast of Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, between the army and a group called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) have alarmed China, which fears an influx of villagers fleeing violence and called this week for peace on the border.
“China provided them with necessary assistance out of humanitarian consideration. I think they will return to Myanmar as soon as the situation calms down. We hope that all sides in Myanmar can work hard with China to quieten down the situation and return the border as soon as possible to peace and tranquility so these border residents can go home,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily briefing in Beijing, without giving a number of the refugees.
Forty-seven Myanmar soldiers have been killed this week in fighting with MNDAA near the border with China, the military said in a statement issued on Friday.
The fighting and heavy casualties are a setback for government efforts to forge a nationwide ceasefire and end a patchwork of insurgencies that have bedeviled Myanmar since shortly after its independence in 1948.
The MNDAA was formerly part of the Communist Party of Burma, a powerful China-backed guerrilla force that battled the Myanmar government until the group splintered in 1989.
Officials from the MNDAA were not available for comment.
Fighting between the rebels and the army in 2009 pushed tens of thousands of refugees into southwestern China, angering the government in Beijing.