YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A senior Myanmar official on Sunday denied Chinese accusations that one of its warplanes crossed China's border and dropped a bomb that killed four farmers during fighting with Myanmar's rebels.
The official in Myanmar's presidential office said his government regrets the deaths and suggested it could have been the work of a group seeking to create confusion. He also promised "full cooperation" with Beijing into the incident, which has tested generally good ties that have been strained in recent years by Myanmar's perceived shift toward the U.S.
The farmers' deaths Friday 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 official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the matter, cited radar and GPS records as proof that Myanmar's fighter jets did not stray into Chinese territory. He also said Yangon had always informed Beijing of its airstrikes in the border region beforehand.
Beijing strongly protested the bombing and said it had sent fighter jets to fend off further intrusion.
Calling the bombing a "very distressful matter," Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday underscored the strong responses made by China's Foreign Ministry and military.
"We have the responsibility and the capacity to firmly safeguard stability in the border areas between the two countries and protect the life and property of our people," Li told reporters at a previously scheduled news conference.
Geng Yansheng, spokesman for China's National Defense Ministry, said Saturday that Myanmar warplanes had intruded "multiple times" and that China would take "decisive measures" should they cross over again.
Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's Central Military Commission, demanded that Yangon seriously investigate the incident, punish those responsible and apologize to the victims' families, according to a statement on the Defense Ministry's website.
The Myanmar official said Yangon would extend "full cooperation" with Beijing and wanted to examine the bomb fragments found within China.
Beijing has disavowed any links with the Kokang 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.
Associated Press writers Didi Tang and Chris Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.