China has protested to Myanmar after five people were injured by artillery shells lobbed during battles between its ruling junta and rebel groups that strayed into a small town near their border, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Thursday.
Armed conflict has surged in Myanmar’s north between the military and rebel groups since late October, spurring calls for a ceasefire from neighboring China, which has also facilitated dialogue between the two sides.
“China … strongly deplores the Chinese casualties caused by the conflict and has already lodged serious representations with the relevant parties,” said Wang Wenbin, the spokesperson.
“China once again asks all parties to the conflict to cease fire and stop fighting, and take measures to prevent the recurrence of such vicious incidents,” Wang told a regular news briefing.
China would take the necessary steps to safeguard the lives and property of its citizens, he added.
Earlier, the state-run Global Times newspaper said five people in Nansan, a subtropical town near Myanmar, were taken to hospital after being wounded on Wednesday by the stray shells.
A video of the incident circulated on social media by the paper showed one person lying on a pavement as people shouted, “Call the police!”
In the video, the paper added that officials in Zhenkang, a city in the southwestern province of Yunnan, had confirmed shelling had strayed from Laukkai, in Myanmar’s northern region of Kokang, at about 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
The incident comes after China’s embassy in Myanmar urged its nationals last week to leave Laukkai as soon as possible, citing growing security risks.
For years, Kokang in Myanmar’s Shan state has been a volatile and restive region.
In 2015, shells from the area also landed across the border in Yunnan amid fighting between Myanmar government troops and rebels, injuring one Chinese and four Myanmar nationals and angering Beijing.
Some battles took place as close as 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the China-Myanmar border at the time.
In 2009, clashes in the same area forced tens of thousands to flee across the border into China, Chinese state media and rights groups have said.
In mid-December, the United Nations estimated more than 660,000 people had been displaced in Myanmar since October 27, and put the corresponding nationwide total at a record 2.6 million.
China has urged citizens to avoid travel to northern Myanmar, and advised those already there to seek safety or return home.