Hundreds of Burmese troops that have been surrounding a key base of the Shan State Army (SSA) for two weeks have pulled back, according to the group’s spokesperson who questioned whether a ceasefire call from Aung San Suu Kyi may have influenced the government’s military strategy.
Of the 14 army battalions that have gradually closed in on Wanhai over the past fortnight, around seven remain, Sai La said. “There is no official announcement on the withdrawal but we can see their battalions pulling back one after another.” It is unclear whether the rest will follow suit.
Reports from Shan state suggested that the Burmese army maybe preparing for an all-out assault on Wanhai, which lies in Mongshu district in central Shan state. Fighting has going on there for several months.
What triggered the withdrawal is unclear, although it came days after Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi sent a letter to President Thein Sein and four ethnic armies, including the SSA, to negotiate a wholesale ceasefire.
“In my opinion, the [Burmese army] is either preparing to stop the war or changing strategies – maybe they are preparing to replace the [battalions] with divisions [Light Infantry Divisions] but if that was the case, they shouldn’t be withdrawing troops before the new units arrive.
“So may be this has something to do with pressure from various groups to stop fighting. They began withdrawing their troops after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sent her open letter.”
Sai La last week told the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) that the delay over an attack on Wanhai may also be put down to poor weather and heavy troop casualties on the Burmese side.
Both the SSA and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has been fighting Burmese forces since early June, welcomed Suu Kyi’s calls, and her offer to play a mediating role in the conflicts.
The government has so far not responded to the letter, which was also sent to the Karen National Union (KNU) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and penned only days after her meeting with Labour Minister Aung Kyi.