Hundreds of Myanmar rebels flee battles with junta troops, cross into China
MENG PENG, China - Hundreds of ethnic rebels have fled clashes in northeastern Myanmar, surrendering their weapons and uniforms to Chinese border police and crossing to safety after several days of skirmishes with Myanmar government troops.
The military junta in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, ended a news blackout about the clashes yesterday, saying three days of fighting had killed 26 government forces and at least eight rebels. It said the fighting had ended and “the region has now regained peace.’’
The United Nations and Chinese officials say up to 30,000 civilian refugees have streamed into China to escape the fighting, which broke out last week after hundreds of Myanmar soldiers moved into Kokang, a mostly ethnic Chinese region run by a local militia.
Myanmar’s junta is trying to consolidate control over several armed ethnic groups along its borders to ensure that next year’s national elections, the first in nearly 20 years, go smoothly.
A US-based Myanmar watchdog group said yesterday that most of the Kokang rebels had surrendered their arms to Chinese authorities upon entering the country, but it was not clear whether their leader was among them.
“There was no way we would win,’’ said one former rebel, Ri Chenchuan, as he shopped for new clothes in the few shops of Meng Peng, a mountain town about 12 miles from the border. Several former rebels said they arrived Saturday
The clashes have strained China’s close relationship with Myanmar’s military junta and come at a particularly sensitive time - ahead of Oct. 1 celebrations to mark 60 years of communist rule.