China calls on Burma to end fighting

Fears of a return to civil war raised as unrest breaks out in northern Burma

China has called for an end to fighting between ethnic groups and the military junta in Burma as fears of a return to civil war in the region are raised.

Unrest broke out in the Shan state in northern Burma, officially called the Union of Myanmar, between government armies and the Kogang rebel group, an ethnic Chinese minority. The recent violence ends a 20 year ceasefire between government factions and the rebel group.

Myanmar's military junta government has signed ceasefires of this kind with 17 ethnic armed groups which may also be under threat.

Over the past few months the junta claim to be tackling illegal business in the region, particularly drug-trafficking.

It is also likely that the military authority is trying to assert government control over armed ethnic groups ahead of a national election in 2010.

These are the first elections in the country since the National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in 1990, an outcome that was ignored by the military.

The region, which has effectively been under militia control since the ceasefire was signed, is presenting a united front to military control. "In my 30 years experience on the border this is the first time I've seen such unity among the ethnic groups," Aung Kyaw Zaw, a former soldier in the defunct Burmese Communist Party said.

The Kokang are allied with the most heavily armed group along the Chinese border, the United Wa State Army, which has about 20,000 soldiers and is heavily armed.

China issued a diplomatic request to Myanmar to quell fighting as up to 10,000 refugees flee across the border into the Chinese province of Yunnan. The call came in a rare statement from Beijing which usually maintains close ties to the military junta.