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Deadly fighting has again broken out between rebel armies the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA) and Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) in Burma’s northeast.
On Monday a skirmish in Hsipaw Township of northern Shan State erupted between the ethnic armed organisations. The battle is the latest in a territorial dispute that broke out late last year, in the wake of the signing of Burma’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.
The Burmese government blocked the TNLA from signing the agreement, but the much larger SSA-S inked the October deal.
Spokesperson for the TNLA Mong Aik Kyaw said the force saw clashes with the SSA-S in Kyaukme Township on 17 January and in nearby Hsipaw Township the following day. He claimed Burmese government troops fought alongside the SSA-S in Kyaukme, leaving one Ta’ang fighter dead and two injured.
Mong Aik Kyaw said that Burmese troops had been actively engaged in the battle and were distinguishable by their accents and weaponry.
“They have a different accent and different weaponry from SSA-S troops. There were around 50-60 SSA-S troops when the fighting started around 6am on [Sunday] the morning. At around 8am, our troops spotted soldiers from the Burmese Army’s 66th Infantry Division converging to the area and later we received specific types of artillery fire that are usually used by the government forces,” he said.
The TNLA has been engaged in fighting with the Burmese army almost continuously over the past 12 months. The TNLA was sidelined from Burma’s peace process shortly before the signing of the ceasefire accord, having fought alongside Kokang rebels the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army in a brutal war on the Chinese border one year ago.
The SSA-S, through its political wing the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in October. Fighting between the two Shan State groups begun shortly after, with each accusing each other of incurring on their respective territories.
“Our troops have been active in the region in question for a long time and the RCSS, after signing the NCA with the government, once again intruded there around the third week of November, triggering a clash in Mongwe in Namhkam Township,” said Mong Aik Kyaw.
“The RCSS prior to that only had about 200 troops in the region but now they have expanded troop presences in Namhkan, Kyaukme, Lashio and Kutkai – bolstering their numbers to about 1,000 in the area of fighting alone.”