Rebel groups the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and the Ta’ang (Palaung) National Liberation Army (TNLA) have each denied responsibility for sparking violence between the two militia groups, which clashed between 27 – 30 November.
At least four battles broke out in an area between the towns of Namhkam and Mongton in northern Shan State, with casualties sustained by both sides, according to each army. The TNLA said that Burmese army troops had fought alongside the SSA-S.
“The SSA-S infringed on a wooded area where our forces operate and attacked us first, leading to clashes as we had to return fire,” said TNLA spokesperson Mong Aik Kyaw.
“Since their units headed from the town of Namtu [eastern Shan State] toward our position, we requested several times that they turn back – however they were unresponsive and kept coming,” Mong Aik Kyaw said.
“On 30 November, government military columns arrived in the area and fought alongside the SSA-S. There were causalities as the clashes were heavy – we counted three of our troops injured,” he said.
The TNLA said approximately 300 SSA-S troops and five Burmese army battalions remained in the area as of Monday and indicated that more clashes could break out at any time.
The SSA-S returned the blame. Spokesperson Col. Sai La told DVB that the TNLA launched an ambush while their troops were returning to Namtu from the SSA-S headquarters in Loi Tai Leng, in the south of the state.
“Our troops were ambushed by the TNLA on the way back from attending a training course on policies and the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. Three of us were killed and five others were injured – with two remaining in the serious condition. The TNLA released a report claiming they also abducted and executed three villagers in Namhkam who they believed helped our troops. They published photos of the dead men with their hands tied but we have not yet been able to identify them,” said Col. Sai La.
Khunsai Jaiyen, director of the Chiang Mai-based Pyidaungsu Institute for Peace and Dialogue encouraged both groups to communicate to prevent future hostilities. He rejected the TNLA’s assertion that government forces have fought alongside the SSA-S.
“Both sides must listen to one another and find common ground to talk – it is rather unbecoming that ethnic armed groups, despite sharing the same native land, are fighting one another instead of the common enemy [the Burmese army]. Their leaders must negotiate to restore amity,” he said.
The SSA-S are a signatory to a ‘nationwide’ ceasefire signed with the Burmese government on 15 October. However the TNLA were one of several groups excluded from the peace deal, with the government refusing to extend an invite while the group remained in conflict with Burmese forces.