Thousands flee embattled Myanmar-China border

It said the bodies of 20 other people were found after the fighting in the town of Laukkai in northern Shan state.

Yang compared the scenes to those in 2015, when tens of thousands escaped fighting between the army and the predominantly ethnic Chinese Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) - the same group that attacked on Monday.

"We support the peace process and hope relevant parties will solve their differences through diplomatic means, dialogue and consultation to ensure peace in this area", Geng said.

Fierce gun battles, artillery strikes and fires rocked the town, prompting thousands to flee south or over the border into China. The fighting has also raised fears of a repeat of 2015, when the displaced flooded across the border into China, raising tensions with Beijing.

"According to initial information, many innocent civilians including a primary school teacher. were killed because of attacks by the MNDAA armed group", the State Counselor's Office said in a statement, adding some attackers wore local police uniforms.

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Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, said at a regular press briefing on Thursday that the Myanmar residents are being offered humanitarian assistance "to temporarily avoid the war".

Fighting has been ongoing in other areas of northern Shan State, where the Northern Alliance-to which the MNDAA, AA, TNLA and the Kachin Independence Army belong-and the Burma Army have clashed.

About 30 people were reported to have died in an attack on 6 March in the town of Laukkai, which is located 800km (500 miles) northeast of commercial hub Yangon.

The Burma Army told the MNDAA, TNLA and AA that the groups could join the peace conference if they first announced they had abandoned their armed struggle, according to the statement.

An army source requesting anonymity said "about 7,000 local residents are fleeing to the China side because of fighting".

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The MNDAA and government troops engaged in three separate clashes this morning, he said, adding that at about 2 a.m., the [Myanmar] military used heavy weapons and dropped bombs that exploded in China's territory.

The 42-year-old owner of the Fuyuan Hotel, who identified himself by his surname Yang, said: "All we can do is to help them and give them food".

The Kokang region's people speak a Chinese dialect and use the yuan as currency.

Observers believe Beijing holds some sway over the ethnic fighters and has a key role to play in peace talks that Myanmar's de facto leader Ms Suu Kyi has tried to revive since coming to power a year ago.

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