Armed ethnic rebels in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state have warned political parties to suspend campaigning for national elections slated for November amid ongoing clashes with the country’s military in the region, citing safety concerns.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) claimed government troops had launched intensive military operations in several areas under the control of the Shan State Army-South (SSA), its military wing, and were committing rights abuses in the region.
The RCSS said that at least eight firefights had taken place in SSA-controlled areas since August, leaving some 20 government troops and five rebel soldiers dead, and urged political parties to halt campaign activities in the region amid the escalating clashes.
RCSS spokesman Col. Sai La said the military had been supported by “helicopters and fighter jets” in clashes with the SSA Tuesday, which left two government troops dead and two injured, as well as one rebel soldier injured.
He said the military had also committed “human rights violations” in the region—including the arrest, beating and shooting of civilians.
“If the attacks from government army continue, local people and people from political parties who campaign in the region will not be safe,” Sai La said.
“That’s why we released this statement, warning [parties] to suspend political campaigns in 16 townships in Shan state, as clashes have escalated.”
According to the statement, the affected townships include Muse, Namhkam, Kyaukme, Hsipaw and Namlan in northern Shan state; Kehsi Mansam, Mong Kung, Loilen, Panglong, Laihka and Mawkmai in southern Shan state; and Mongton, Monghsat, Monghpyak, Kengtung and Tachilek in eastern Shan state.
Sai La said the RCSS, which signed a bilateral cease-fire agreement with the government-appointed Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) in December 2011, would reach out to committee chairman minister Aung Min to express its concerns over the ongoing conflict.
He said that while the RCSS is ready to ink a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA), which President Thein Sein hopes to have cemented with more than a dozen of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups ahead of the Nov. 8 election, the fighting in Shan state suggests the government is not committed to the peace process.
“We have said the RCSS is ready to sign the NCA, but if the fighting continues to escalate we will have to reconsider because it doesn’t indicate a desire to pursue peace.”
Officials with the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center in Yangon, which is working to help broker the NCA, refused to comment in response to the RCSS statement.
The RCSS statement came as clashes continued Thursday between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—another armed ethnic group involved in peace talks with the government—and Myanmar’s military in northern Shan state.
Fighting between the government’s Brigade 99 and KIA Battalion 36 broke out on Sept. 7 in KIA territory, and local residents told RFA’s Myanmar Service that clashes continued until late Wednesday.
“We had fighting in three places yesterday,” one resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The source said more clashes were expected as “16 government army trucks were deployed to the region” over the weekend containing troops and supplies.
Hundreds of local residents have been displaced from their homes amid the fighting.
While leaders from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) were among those from other armed ethnic groups who tentatively agreed to sign an “all inclusive” NCA in October following talks with Thein Sein in the capital Naypyidaw earlier this month, sources suggest the ongoing fighting may present an obstacle to those plans.
Ethnic leaders are also at odds with the government over how many groups to include and have demanded that at least 18—including some of which are currently fighting the military—be invited to sign the NCA.
The government has only agreed to include 15 with which it already has bilateral agreements in place.
KIO general secretary La Ja has said leaders of all ethnic armed groups will meet from Sept. 25-26 to discuss next moves following the negotiations in Naypyidaw.
Reported by Aung Moe Myint and Ye Htet for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.