The Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) has hit back at the Burmese army for blaming a string of recent clashes in northeastern Burma on a rebel drive to “expand their territories”.
On Sunday, the military-owned Myawady newspaper justified seizing a rebel outpost in Namhkam township in northern Shan state last week, on the basis that it “extended beyond” the areas agreed in their ceasefire deal. It also accused rebels of building “illegal” settlements and confiscating farmlands in the area.
“We would like the newspaper to study our [ceasefire] agreement,” SSA-S deputy spokesperson Sai Hseng Murng told DVB on Monday. “We have previously specified the locations of our troops in northern Shan state – as recognised by the Tatmadaw [Burmese armed forces], the Peace Making Committee and the Shan state government.”
The rebels also denied having knowledge of five missing Burmese civilians, alleged by the army to have been shot or captured by the SSA-S while selling photos in Muse township’s Nonghin village. Rebels have previously voiced suspicion that the five missing people may be military intelligence personnel, who are being used to justify an encroachment into their territories.
Sai Hseng Murng called on the army to file a missing persons report with the local police and reach out to the rebels through one of its liaison offices, rather than by making spurious accusations.
It follows news that a SSA-S outpost was torched to the ground by the Burmese army on 5 May, after a failed attempt to locate the civilians.
The SSA-S also denied other allegations printed in the newspaper — including “forcibly recruiting” civilians, “collecting ransom” and “illegal tax” from farmers — and warned that publishing false military propaganda would lead to further distrust among the Shan population.
On 9 May, the SSA-S lost an outpost near the Sino-Burmese border, after coming under a fierce attack by hundreds of Burmese army troops. Over 2,000 local villagers were forced to flee into Namhkam town and across the border into China.
The SSA-S has instructed its troops in the area to engage in guerrilla warfare against the Burmese army, although they insist that the ceasefire will remain in place until the government formally revokes it.
Despite reaching a tentative ceasefire deal in December 2011 and a union-level agreement the following year, the SSA-S and the Burmese army have engaged in dozens of clashes.
The SSA-S is one of Burma’s largest armed groups, and has been fighting for greater autonomy and ethnic rights in Burma for over half a century.