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China warns Myanmar after death of four farmers near border

A top Chinese leader threatened retaliation Sunday if Myanmar doesn’t take steps to prevent cross-border violence after an incident Friday when a bomb thought to be from a Myanmar military aircraft exploded on Chinese territory, killing four people.

“We have the responsibility and the ability to firmly defend the stability of the China-Myanmar border, and firmly protect the lives and the security of the property of our people,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told a news conference in Beijing at the conclusion of China’s yearly legislative session.

A day earlier, Beijing dispatched jets to patrol to prevent incursions and quoted a high-ranking military official, Fan Changlong, as saying the country would take “resolute and decisive” measures against Myanmar if there were a repeat incident.

“The Myanmar side must recognize the seriousness of the issue, seriously deal with this incident, punish those who caused the trouble, apologize and pay compensation to family members, and explain themselves,” China’s defense ministry said Fan told Myanmar’s military. Fan is China’s deputy head of the Central Military Commission.

Myanmar, which shares a 1,250-mile border with China, has been engaged in an off-again, on-again battle with rebels in its northern Kokong region. The rebels are led by an ethnic Chinese commander, Peng Jiasheng. Myanmar has accused China of aiding Peng, a charge Beijing has denied.

As the fighting has heated up in recent weeks, Myanmar refugees – many ethnic Chinese – have streamed across the border into China, with some rebels possibly joining them.

On Friday, according to Chinese officials, a Myanmar military aircraft strayed into China’s Yunnan province and dropped a bomb on a sugarcane field near the town of Lincang. Four farm workers were killed and nine injured, the government said.

Myanmar has disputed that the bomb came from one of its planes, but the Chinese government says there’s no other explanation. The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the rebel group, is not known to possess any aircraft.

China previously accused Myanmar of bombing its territory last weekend in an incident that caused no casualties.

Relations between China and Myanmar have been strained for several years, partly because the government of President Thein Sein has sought closer relations with the West. Sein has also sidetracked some deals the previous military junta made with China, including construction of hydroelectric projects.

After Friday’s bombing in Yunnan, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin summoned Thit Linn Ohn, Myanmar’s ambassador to China, and lodged “solemn representations.”

Earlier this month, a Chinese military official in Yunnan, already under investigation for corruption, was accused of leaking state secrets to the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. The accusations against Maj. Gen. Huang Xing are thought to be highly embarrassing to the Chinese government, which espouses a principle of non-interference in the affairs of its neighbors.

Last week, Yunnan’s provincial governor, Li Jiheng, was forced to issue a statement dispelling rumors that his government had secretly hosted Peng Jiasheng, the leader of the rebels.

On Sunday, Chinese state media reported that the government’s anti-graft agency had placed Qiu He, Yunnan’s deputy Communist Party secretary, under investigation. It was not immediately clear if the investigation is related to the one that brought down Maj. Gen. Huang.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mispelled the name of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Email: sleavenworth@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @sleavenworth

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