Myanmar

Myanmar pledges stability on China border

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BEIJING, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Myanmar has promised China that it will maintain stability along their long and remote shared border after unrest in August pushed thousands of refugees into the Chinese side, angering Beijing.

The former Burma's reclusive leader, General Than Shwe, made the pledge during a meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in the country's new jungle capital of Naypyidaw over the weekend, according to China's Foreign Ministry.

"Myanmar will, as always, and working hard with the Chinese, preserve the peace and stability of the border areas," Than Shwe was paraphrased as saying in a statement on Monday on the Chinese Foreign Ministry's website (http://www.mfa.gov.cn).

"China and Myanmar share a long joint border, and Myanmar deeply understands and knows that maintaining peace and stability on the border is extremely important to both countries," added the general, who rarely meets foreign leaders.

In August, Myanmar's military overwhelmed and disarmed the Kokang group, the weakest of many ethnic armies which, in some cases, have based themselves for decades along the Chinese border.

That triggered an exodus of more than 37,000 refugees across the border and strained ties with China, the military government's only real diplomatic ally.

Myanmar's army has maintained a sizable presence over the past few months in Shan State, where rebel militias are braced for an offensive that could turn into a protracted conflict, creating another refugee crisis for China.

The junta wants ethnic groups to take part in a general election next year and has told local militias to disarm and join a government-run border patrol force or be wiped out, according to activists in Shan State.

Xi, seen as frontrunner to succeed President Hu Jintao, assured Myanmar of China's continuing support.

"Developing friendly and cooperation relations between China and Myanmar is an important part of Chinese foreign policy, and this will not change," the ministry quoted him as saying.

He added that China felt "happy" at Myanmar's "road map" to democracy, roundly dismissed by rights activists as a sham.

"China hopes and believes that Myanmar will peacefully resolve these problems through dialogue and consultations," Xi said.

China's overriding concern is a stable Myanmar to give its landlocked southwestern provinces access to the Indian Ocean, as well as oil, gas and timber to feed its booming economy.

China's CNPC started building a crude oil port in Myanmar in October, part of a pipeline project aimed at cutting out the long detour oil cargoes take through the congested and strategically vulnerable Malacca Strait.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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