Shan rebels, who clashed with government troops in eastern Burma over the weekend, have warned the army to respect the terms of their ceasefire agreement or risk derailing the peace process.
The Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), who inked a peace deal with the government in December 2011, claims government forces invaded their territory on Saturday, resulting in two fierce clashes in southern Shan state’s Langhko district – just across the border from Thailand’s Mae Hong Song region.
“We would like to remind the government to fulfill its responsibility to have all government organisations including the Tatmadaw [Burmese armed forces] to adhere to the ceasefire agreements and to facilitate political dialogues advocated by all ethnic armed groups and the opposition,” the group’s spokesperson Sai Lao Hseng, told DVB on Monday.
He said the two clashes broke out when troops from the army’s 514th and 287th Light Infantry Battalions entered rebel-held territory near Mae-Aw village in Homein sub-township.
“The government forces didn’t adhere to the ceasefire agreement – they came into our territory and attacked us,” said Sai Lao Hseng.
According to a report in the Bangkok Post, the Burmese army believed that Shan soldiers were planning to obstruct the construction of a government road being developed in preparation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. The Thai army was even reported to have been placed on high alert in case the conflict spilled over the border.
Burma has not released a formal statement regarding the incident. But in a statement on 4 January, the government professed to be “relentlessly working to achieve sustainable peace” with all ethnic nationalities and to “have successfully reached peace agreements with all armed groups” except the Kachin.
Sai Lao Hseng insisted the SSA-S has not yet forged a “perpetual peace” with the government, but only reached a ceasefire agreement. Over 50 clashes between the SSA-S and government troops have been reported since they signed their ceasefire agreement on 2 December 2011, he added.
“You can only say there is perpetual peace in the country when all the political problems have been solved, and in order to achieve that a ceasefire must first be reached and its agreements must be respected,” said Sai Lao Hseng.
The quasi-civilian government, led by President Thein Sein, has signed tentative ceasefire agreements with ten out of eleven major armed groups in Burma. But the country’s border regions continue to be deeply volatile, with ongoing clashes also reported in Karen and northern Shan states. Burma’s ethnic minority groups have been fighting for greater autonomy and rights for decades.