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China urges Myanmar cease-fire as rebels take key border outpost

A long exposure photo taken late on Oct. 28, 2023, shows a missile fired from a Myanmar military base in Lashio township, northern Shan State. Heavy fighting between rebels and the Myanmar military stretched into a second day near the country's northern border with China.    (STR/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/TNS)
Bloomberg News

China called for a halt to fighting flaring along its border with Myanmar, where a rebel group says it seized several towns, including a trade hub.

“China is closely following the conflict in northern Myanmar,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Thursday at a regular press briefing in Beijing. “We urge all parties to immediately cease fire, stick to dialogue and consultation, resolve their differences with peaceful means, and avoid escalation.”

A coalition of ethnic armed groups known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance said in a statement that it had taken control of four towns including the trade hub of Chinshwehaw in Shan state in a week-long military operation. It also seized six armored vehicles, it said.

Major General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the Myanmar junta, said in a televised address that the government had lost control of some areas in the north, including Chinshwehaw, which borders the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.

The latest fighting underscores the challenges that Myanmar’s ruling junta faces controlling the country nearly three years after a coup. In September, the acting leader of Myanmar’s government-in-exile, Duwa Lashi La said resistance forces were in control of about 60% of the southeast Asian nation’s territory and poised to threaten the junta in key strongholds.

Violence has intensified in Myanmar as the military led by Min Aung Hlaing — facing a weak economy and growing signs of dissent within his regime — struggles to keep up with a multi-front conflict from several armed ethnic groups.

China’s public security minister, Wang Xiaohong, traveled to Myanmar to meet with Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, without mentioning the fighting.

Ethnic armed groups including those allied to ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi have been ramping up ground attacks as the junta struggles to hold onto territory beyond urban strongholds.

The junta responded by expanding assaults on its civilian population of 55 million, including nearly 700 air strikes between April 2022 and July this year. Widespread unrest also prompted the regime to extend a state of emergency until Jan. 31, dashing hopes of a general election this year.