Vehicles trapped in Mantong township for five days were able to leave the area in battle-scarred northern Shan state on Thursday after the Myanmar military reopened roads following an ambush by an ethnic armed group on one of its convoys, a local politician said.
The military closed off all entry and exit points to the township after the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) attacked one of its convoys on Aug. 5, prohibiting residents and visitors from coming into and going out of Mantong.
Mantong is one of two townships in the Palaung self-administered zone overseen by the ethnic Palaung, or Ta’ang, people — a Mon–Khmer ethnic minority found in Shan state. The zone’s other township is Namhsan.
There were no reports of casualties from the attack.
“About 20 vehicles were trapped in town,” said Aik Mone, chairman of the Ta’ang National Party who lives in Mantong. “The road reopened this morning, and vehicles can travel to Namtu and Lashio from Mantong.”
Myanmar troops are meanwhile continuing their search and arrest operations for the attackers, Mantong residents told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
When the township was closed, government soldiers conducted searches at night and apprehended 10 people on Wednesday, they said.
Officials from the Palaung self-administered zone contacted Colonel Soe Moe Aung, Shan state minister for border security, who said he will talk to the government army about the arrests and ongoing clashes with the TNLA.
Thein Zaw, an official from the Palaung self-administered zone, told RFA that the Myanmar army has not yet confirmed the arrests.
TNLA battalion 434 has been engaged in hostilities with the national army’s Light Infantry Division 77 in the Palaung self-administered zone in recent days, according to information on the website of the Palaung State Liberation Front, the TNLA’s political wing.
The rebel army has been fighting the government military and another ethnic armed group — the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) — in Shan state since late November 2015, about six weeks after the signing of a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) between the government and eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armed groups.
The TNLA was excluded from signing the accord because of its ongoing hostilities with Myanmar's armed forces.
In a related development, a delegation of ethnic armed groups that have not signed the NCA met with the government’s Peace Commission on Thursday at the National Peace and Reconciliation Center in Yangon for their sixth round of formal negotiations.
The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) — the umbrella organization for militias that have not signed a nationwide peace pact with the Myanmar government — discussed the nine-point proposal put forth by its Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), which lays out conditions under which ethnic militias will sign the NCA.
Peace Commission chairman Tin Myo Win said the parties would reach an agreement for UNFC members to sign the NCA at the current round of talks after 14 months of negotiations.
“Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi strongly believes that all delegations will sign the NCA and participate in third Panglong Peace Conference,” said Tin Myo Win, the commission’s chairman. “I also believe that both sides will build trust and work together to build a federal democratic system.”
The peace conference is a key initiative of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader who wants to end decades of civil war between the government military and rebel armies that have torn the country apart.
Two rounds of the Panglong Conference talks were held in August 2016 and May 2017. The government has yet to announce the date for the next round of talks expected later this year.
Khu Oo Reh, head of the DPN, said the government must create a fair situation for all ethnic groups if it wants those who have not signed the NCA to agree to the pact and participate in the next meeting of the government’s Panglong Conference.
Though both sides agreed on the points on March 3 and released a joint statement about them, they have yet to put them into practice, he said.
In June, four ethnic militias, including the TNLA, broke with the umbrella organization over a disagreement with the UNFC about the NCA, which they want to include all rebel groups.
Reported by Zarni Htun, Thiha Tun and Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.