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Renewed Fighting Creates Setback For Myanmar's Efforts To End Civil War


Heavy fighting in northern Myanmar over the past month-and-a-half has killed and wounded hundreds of government soldiers and ethnic insurgents. Last month, the clashes spilled over the border into China. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing that the fighting is a setback for Myanmar's efforts to end a decade-long civil war.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Myanmar's ministry of information says that 13 government troops and three rebels were killed on Wednesday in fighting in the Kokang region Myanmar's northeast. Since last month, tens of thousands of Kokang refugees who are also ethnic Chinese have fled over the border into China. Here's Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei.


HONG LEI: (Through interpreter) Out of humanitarian concern, China has supported and settled these people. We hope all sides in Myanmar will exercise restraint, restore order and allow these border residents to return to Myanmar soon.

KUHN: Last week, China says that Myanmar warplanes dropped bombs on Chinese territories. They killed five local sugarcane farmers. In response, China moved troops, artillery and aircraft to the border and has vowed to respond to further incursions. Myanmar's government, meanwhile, says that Kokang rebels have gotten weapons and supplies from the Chinese side of the border. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei denies China has had any hand in the conflict.


LEI: (Through interpreter) China respects Myanmar's sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we oppose anyone using Chinese territory to do anything that undermines Sino-Burmese relations.

KUHN: but it wasn't always this way. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, China armed and trained Burmese communist rebels fighting the government there. Among them was Kokang Rebel leader Phung Xa Shung(ph). Phung is now in his mid-eighties, and the current bout of fighting is part of Phung's effort to retake territory that the government seized six years ago. Du Xi Feng(ph) is a Southeast Asia expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. He says that Beijing needs to acknowledge their historical and ethnic ties to the Kokang and then move on.

DU XI FENG: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: "This matter has been resolved," he says. "There may be some aftereffects, but it wouldn't be realistic to use this as a reason to settle old scores." This is the third time in six years that fighting in Myanmar has destabilized its border with China. Du says, this time, China's response has been restrained because it doesn't want to drive its neighbor into closer cooperation with the U.S. and other Western nations. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.