The Burmese army is continuing its military intervention into an ongoing conflict between two ethnic rebel groups in northern Shan State, according to government media.
Militia groups the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) have been locked in a territorial dispute since November 2015. One month earlier, the SSA-S signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Burmese government. Naypyidaw blocked the much smaller TNLA from signing, despite the group having contributed to the drafting of the ceasefire document.
Citing the Ministry of Defence, The Global New Light of Myanmar reported that the Burmese military had issued an ultimatum on 12 February to the SSA-S – instructing the group to withdraw from Kyaukme and Namhsan townships as the military prepared an assault on TNLA soldiers in the area. The SSA-S reportedly refused to comply.
The report stated that the Burmese army had “since begun conducting combined operations in the area in accordance with Article 20(e) of Chapter 1 and Article 341 of Chapter 7 of the 2008 Constitution.”
TNLA spokesperson Tar Parn La told DVB that the Burmese army had ramped up its presence in the area. Tar Parn claimed that the TNLA had seen at least seven clashes with Tatmadaw forces between 14 and 25 February, adding the group had come under fire by Burmese helicopters on two occasions.
“We have no more ground to retreat to. This is our territory – our ancestors, our people live here and we will defend ourselves regardless of who we are facing. We do know that people have to suffer because of war and we have no wish to see that. However the Restoration Council of Shan State [the political wing of the SSA-S] increased the presence of its troops significantly after signing the NCA,” he said.
“Before they signed the NCA, they had about 30 troops in Namhkam and 50 in Kyaukme – now they have between 2,000 and 3,000 in the area. We assumed they had the government military’s backing since they mobilised their troops without a single bullet shot along the way, but now the Burmese army wants both groups out of the area as they ‘intervene’ in the fight – using the situation to suit their own political agenda.”
The TNLA has long accused the Burmese army of backing the SSA-S, claims Shan representatives have repeatedly denied.
Speaking to DVB from the sidelines of the 22 February meeting between government negotiators and the Shan rebels in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, an SSA-S representative said the group hoped that the TNLA would accede to the NCA and join the political dialogue.
Meanwhile, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy Party spokesperson Sai Lek urged both sides to bring an end to hostilities for the sake of the local population.
“We have learnt that over 70 displaced locals from Namhsan arrived in Kyaukme on [Wednesday] amid hostilities between the government and the TNLA in the Palaung Self-Administered Region. The Burmese army also told the SSA-S to withdraw from the area and are likely to use force if they refuse to comply. If that happens, there will be more IDPs.
“There are still IDPs in southern Shan State who fled their villages in Mongshu last year, and it is likely the same will happen in northern Shan State,” said Sai Lek.
“As a political party, we would like to urge the armed groups to avoid fight for the sake of the people and work together to ensure the people’s security.”
Since fighting erupted late last year, more than 1,000 civilians in Namhkam and 4,000 in Kyaukme have been forced to flee their villages in search of safety.