China Urges Burma to Bridle Ethnic Militia Uprising at Border

By Tim Johnston
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 29, 2009

BANGKOK -- A Burmese government crackdown on powerful ethnic militias that have challenged its rule for more than 60 years has driven 10,000 refugees into neighboring China, prompting a rare rebuke from Chinese authorities, the Burmese regime's key allies.

The refugees fled over the border into China's Yunnan province in the past few days after fighting erupted between Burmese government troops and ethnic militia fighters from the Kokang region of the nation also known as Myanmar.

China called on the Burmese authorities to "properly handle domestic problems and maintain stability in the China-Myanmar border region," according to a statement from Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu. "We also urge Myanmar to protect the security and legal rights of Chinese citizens in Myanmar."

China has been balancing support for the Burmese government with backing for the armed ethnic groups that occupy much of the Burmese side of the border. The border regions are heavily influenced by China, with many Chinese businesses taking advantage of the trade in gems, timber and jade.

Analysts say the fighting is just the most obvious sign of tensions arising from the Burmese government's desire to control the armed ethnic groups with which it has co-existed uneasily since a round of cease-fires that began 20 years ago ended decades of open conflict.

The recent fighting in the Kokang region has pitted government troops against the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army as well as drawing in other ethnic groups involved in the cease-fire including the United Wa State Army, which with about 20,000 fighters is the largest ethnic army in the country.

A cease-fire agreement between the government and the National Democratic Alliance Army had been in place since 1989.

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