BEIJING (AP) — China sent fighter jets to its border with neighboring Myanmar on Saturday and lodged a diplomatic protest after it said a Myanmar warplane dropped a bomb on Chinese territory, killing four people.
The incident occurred as the Myanmar government stepped up its fight against ethnic Chinese rebels in the country's Kokang region along China's southwestern border. The upsurge in fighting in recent weeks has sent thousands of people fleeing across the border into China's Yunnan province.
Newspapers in Myanmar reported that government forces launched airstrikes against rebels and heavy clashes took place near the border.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the bomb hit a sugarcane field in the Chinese border city of Lincang, killing four people working there on Friday and wounding nine others.
Air force spokesman Col. Shen Jinke said China sent several warplanes to warn off and chase away any Myanmar planes approaching the Chinese border. Shen said that Beijing would closely monitor the airspace along the border.
Liu Zhenmin, a vice foreign minister, summoned Myanmar's Ambassador Thit Linn Ohn on Friday to issue the protest.
China "strongly condemns" the incident and calls on Myanmar to carry out a thorough investigation, report the findings to China, punish the guilty and take steps to ensure similar events do not occur, the ministry said in a statement.
Beijing has disavowed any links with the ethnic Chinese rebels in Myanmar, saying it respects Myanmar's sovereignty. Myanmar officials have said former Chinese soldiers have trained the rebels, an allegation the insurgents have denied.
Myanmar officials blame the renewed fighting on a renegade rebel faction led by Phone Kya Shin, which attempted to seize Laukkai, the capital of the self-administered Kokang region.
U.S. officials have long suspected Phone Kya Shin, also known as Peng Jiasheng, of playing a major role in drug trafficking, initially in opium and more recently in methamphetamines. The guerrillas used to be part of the now-defunct Burmese Communist Party, which had been backed by China until it signed a cease-fire with the then-military government in Myanmar in 1989.
Associated Press writer Aye Aye Win in Yangon, Myanmar, contributed to this report.