China says 3,000 flee Myanmar after fighting along border

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is giving shelter to more than 3,000 people who have fled Myanmar after fighting between the government and rebels, and stray shells have fallen inside China causing minor damage but no deaths, the government and state media said on Tuesday.

Four ethnic armed groups have attacked security forces in the north of Myanmar, dealing a major blow to leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s top goal of reaching peace with ethnic minorities.[nL4N1DM1AF]

Ten people, including policemen, government-supported militia fighters and civilians, were killed and 33 wounded in clashes since Oct. 20, according to Myanmar’s Information Committee under the State Counsellor Office.

The number of people seeking shelter at temporary refugee camps in Myanmar’s Muse township had exceeded 3,300, it said.

China, which has been alarmed by previous fighting along the porous border, has put its armed forces on high alert and called for all sides to exercise restraint.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said wounded people among the 3,000 Myanmar citizens have been taken to hospital. The refugees are in the southwestern province of Yunnan, which shares a long border with Myanmar.

“We strongly hope that both sides involved in the clash exercise restraint,” Geng told a daily briefing.

He urged both sides to halt military action immediately, avoid escalation and take effective steps so that the border region returns to peace as soon as possible.

“China is willing to keep playing a constructive role in Myanmar’s internal peace process, in accordance with Myanmar’s wishes,” he added.

China hopes those who have fled can return to Myanmar as soon as the fighting ends, Geng said.

Stray shells have fallen in Wanding, an important border crossing, causing some minor damage, state television said.

The Global Times newspaper also said a Chinese government building in Wanding had been lightly damaged.

Only one Chinese resident had been wounded, and fighting on the Myanmar side had subsided, Geng said.

The sudden escalation of fighting comes as the Myanmar government grapples with a conflict in northwestern Rakhine that has sent hundreds of Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, posing a new challenge to Nobel peace prize winner Suu Kyi, who swept to power last year on promises of national reconciliation.

Previous fighting along the border pushed thousands of people into China. China was infuriated last year when five Chinese people were killed after fighting spilled into its territory.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun in YANGON; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Paul Tait