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Myanmar residents flee into China after new fighting

BEIJING, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Fresh fighting has erupted between Myanmar government forces and an armed ethnic group in the remote northeast, forcing an exodus of residents into neighbouring China, state media said.

Thousands of people crossed the border earlier this week from Kokang in Myanmar's Shan State after clashes broke out, which a U.S.-based rights group said followed the deployment of troops in the area.

A news website run by Yunnan (www.yunnan.cn), the Chinese province bordering Myanmar, said fighting flared again on Thursday afternoon, "leading residents from the Myanmar side to panic and flood in large numbers into our territory."

"At present, the number entering continues to increase," said the brief report.

The trouble on the frontier may raise tensions between China and Myanmar, where the military junta looks to Beijing as one of its few diplomatic backers and a crucial source of investment. (For more on their relationship see: [ID:nSP432912])

Late on Thursday, the Xinhua news agency also said the refugee influx continued, citing officials in Yunnan.

"Yunnan is helping them to settle down in designated areas with supply of life necessities and medical care," said the Xinhua brief report.

Neither report said how many people had fled, or specified how many of them are Myanmar or Chinese nationals. Earlier Chinese news reports had said close to 10,000 people had crossed into Yunnan to escape the fighting.

The Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma has said tensions first flared on Aug. 8 when the Myanmar army deployed hundreds of troops in Kokang, a mostly ethnic Chinese region where rebels have observed a two-decade-old ceasefire with the government. Burma is the former name of Myanmar.

The U.S. Campaign for Burma said the mobilisation of troops was a move by the junta to force ethnic groups to form political parties to contest next year's election, the first in Myanmar in 20 years.

Many ethnic groups feel they have nothing to gain from running in the polls and suspect the junta is trying to neutralise their threat by bringing rebel fighters into the army under the command of the Yangon regime.

The Myanmar Peace and Democracy Front (MPDF), a newly formed alliance of four ethnic groups, and Chinese media reports have said troops had attacked a factory used by the ethnic groups to repair weapons on suspicion it was being used to produce illicit drugs.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills and Sanjeev Miglani chris.buckley@thomsonreuters.com; +86-13501014479 If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to newsfeedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com

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