The Shan State Army-North sent a letter to President Thein Sein on Friday after government troops allegedly targeted rebel bases in an area set to host the resettlement of displaced families and future economic development.
Fighting in Lashio’s Tangyang township kicked off on 19 February when approximately 160 government troops from 322nd Light Infantry Battalion entered the SSA-N’s territory close to Loilan Hill and Mongkao and began assaulting rebel positions.
“On [February] 22, our central leadership sent a letter to the president, explaining that the areas where the Burmese army is attacking now is where we previously proposed for development and resettlement work by our 36th Brigade,” SSA-N spokesperson Major Sai Lai told DVB.
During peace talks between the SSA-N and government negotiators last October, the two sides agreed to form a joint committee to oversee the development of a model village, which is intended to house about 350 households including the families of troops from Brigade 36 and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
“We see a risk to the ceasefire agreement if the Burmese army continues to attack these areas,” said the spokesperson.
The rebel group has engaged in more than 50 clashes with the Burmese military following the inking of a ceasefire agreement with the government last year.
Following the outbreak of violence in the northeastern state last week, the SSA-N sent two officials on 20 February to meet with the military’s Northern Regional Military Command (RMC) chief to discuss the fighting.
On 21 February, the RMC’s general staff officer Colonel Win Thein asked the SSA-N’s troops to withdraw from the areas where the clashes erupted.
According to Major Sai La, fighting broke out after the SSA-N rejected the military’s demands. The SSA-N then wrote their first letter of the week to Thein Sein asking him to put a stop to the fighting.
“We officially wrote to the president [on 20 February] urging him to prevent using military means as a solution for problems and the president apparently also issued a directive,” said Major Sai La.
According to the spokesperson, fighting has stopped in the area, but the government’s troops have yet to withdraw from their current positions.
After receiving the SSA-N’s second letter on the February 22, Thein Sein allegedly tapped President’s Office Minister Aung Min to order the RMC chief to pull back his men.
Analysts have accused Thein Sein in the past of failing to rein in the military, after the president’s orders were unsuccessful in halting the army’s offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
Last week’s fighting took place as government peace negotiators led by Aung Min attended talks in Thailand with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an umbrella-group made up of 11 ethnic armed groups including the SSA-N.
The SSA-N’s representative Sao Purng Fa at the meeting said he was unable to address the issue during the negotiations as the talks were focused on discussing a future political dialogue between the ethnic federation and the government.
Since Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government came into power more than a year and a half ago, ceasefire deals have been struck with 10 of the country’s major 11 rebel groups. However, these truces remain tenuous as government forces continue to clash with ceasefire groups in border regions and wage an offensive against the KIA in northern Burma.