A nationwide cease-fire agreement is likely to be finalized “soon,” despite escalating conflicts between Myanmar’s military and three ethnic rebel armies in the country’s remote border regions, an ethnic lawmaker said Friday, adding that the final deal may exclude certain groups.
Government troops are increasingly involved in fighting with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin state, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in Shan state’s Kokang region, and the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine state, but the conflicts will not damage the peace process, said Khet Htein Nan of the Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State (UDPKS).
“As we have been trying to sign an NCA (nationwide cease-fire agreement) for four years, we believe it can be finalized one day soon, despite some problems and difficulties,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“There have been problems between ethnic groups and the government for a long time. We know not all of the problems can be solved at the same time, but we believe we can solve the problems step by step … We will try to include all groups in the peace process.”
Rebel groups plan to attend a May 1-3 summit at the United Wa State Army (UWSA) headquarters in northern Shan state to discuss a draft NCA signed last month between the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) coalition of 16 armed ethnic groups and the government’s Union Peace-Making Work Committee (UPWC).
Reports have suggested that a final NCA could be signed next month, though Khet Htein Nan said that ongoing fighting between government troops and the three rebel groups could limit its effectiveness.
“It depends on all groups’ efforts and respect for one another,” he said.
“Everybody understands that we can only move forward as a democratic country if we have unity, so I believe that everybody will keep that in mind as we attempt to deal with this situation.”
The government has said it will find a way to sign an NCA without the MNDAA and the AA, although the KIA, which is involved in the peace process, has urged President Thein Sein to include the two groups in any final agreement.
Khet Htein Nan acknowledged that a final NCA might not include certain groups.
“What I believe is that we will sign the NCA first and consider the MNDAA problem second,” he said, without addressing whether the AA would be included.
When asked if the government was likely to hold peace talks with the MNDAA aside from the NCA process, Khet Htein Nan said he was unsure.
“I understand that we will solve the problem based on time and the situation,” he said.
Fighting has ramped up in recent weeks between government troops and the MNDAA, who are fighting along Myanmar’s border with China under ethnic Chinese leader Peng Jiasheng to reclaim the Kokang region, which they had controlled until 2009.
Ethnic Kokang lawmaker Kyaw Ni Naing, who represents the regional capital Laukkai, told RFA on Friday that of more than 100,000 refugees who have fled across the border to China’s Yunnan province since the fighting began in February, around 60,000 refugees remain in camps there.
The fighting has also spilled across the border in recent months, with several bombs mistakenly dropped by Myanmar’s air force on Chinese soil, killing Chinese civilians and raising tensions between Naypyidaw and Beijing.
On Friday, Chinese sources told RFA’s Mandarin Service that bullets fired from the Myanmar side of the border struck at least four villagers’ homes in Nansan township, in Yunnan’s Lincang county, though no one was injured.
One source in Nansan, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said fighting had escalated rapidly over the past two days.
“I was awoken by bomb shelling Thursday morning at about 5 a.m.,” he said.
“We heard bombing and machine guns firing all day long. The battle appeared to be quite fierce.”
He said that the fighting had caused villagers near the battlefield to retreat to the Chinese side of the border, while rebel fighters “went up into the mountains, but didn’t disclose what they were doing.”
Another resident of Nansan, who also asked to remain anonymous, said he had seen unidentified people suffering from injuries enter the town seeking food.
“There was a group of people with muddy feet who came to eat,” he said.
“They didn’t say much other than that they were very hungry and they just wolfed down their food as fast as they could. I also saw two soldiers accompanying them, and they all left for the mountains after they ate.”
Tun Myat Linn, spokesman for the MNDAA, said Thursday that of a force of more than 3,000 soldiers, some 30 MNDAA rebels have been killed and around 100 injured in the fighting since clashes broke out, while an estimated 700 government soldiers had died and 1,500 were wounded.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine and Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service and by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Feng Xiaoming. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.