A Myanmar coalition of armed ethnic rebel groups called on the government Wednesday to halt a military offensive in ethnic states in the midst of negotiations for a nationwide cease-fire pact.
The call from the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) came amid new tensions in Kachin state, where a conflict between the military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) appeared imminent after rebels refused to withdraw from their position as ordered by government troops, according to a KIA official.
Naing Han Tha, vice chairman of the UNFC bloc of 12 ethnic armed groups, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the offensive was causing irreparable damage to the trust ethnic rebels had placed in the government.
“While we are trying to achieve peace in the country, the government army has attacked ethnic armed groups and we need to put a stop to it,” he said, in an apparent reference to the sometimes deadly fighting in recent weeks in the Kayin, Mon and Shan states.
“It will be difficult to hold political dialogue if we can’t stop these offensives.”
Nearly all of Myanmar’s ethnic armed rebels have signed bilateral cease-fire agreements with the government since President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration took power from the former military junta in 2011.
The government is also negotiating with all of the country’s ethnic armed groups to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement, though the process has been repeatedly delayed. The agreement would be followed by political dialogue aimed at giving ethnic groups greater representation in parliament.
In Kachin state, government troops have ordered the KIA to abandon parts of their territory, raising fears that the local population will be forced to flee if clashes break out between the two sides, Major Tan Hsant, the commanding officer of KIA Regiment 6, told RFA on Wednesday.
Tan Hsant said the division commander of Myanmar’s Army Brigade 66 had ordered him to withdraw his troops from KIA-controlled Aungbarlay village and retreat to KIA outposts by Tuesday, but that he had refused.
“People are becoming afraid—they don’t want to leave their homes,” he said.
“Even other ethnic armed groups which have agreed to a [bilateral] cease-fire with government are fighting with government troops. We will have to fight with them if they attack us.”
Tan Hsant did not specify the location of the outposts he had been ordered to retreat to.
The KIA and an ethnic Palaung group, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), are the only two armed groups that have not signed a bilateral cease-fire agreement with Naypyidaw, according to the Irrawaddy online journal.
The military’s demand to the KIA to withdraw comes as ethnic rebels from the Shan State Army (SSA) agreed to meet later this week in Shan state’s largest town Lasho with peace negotiators from Naypyidaw following recent clashes with government troops.
“Our leader General Hsay Htin met with Thein Zaw, deputy chairman of the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC), in Naypyidaw, and they agreed to meet again on Oct. 18 in Lasho,” Colonel Pain Hpa of the SSA told RFA Wednesday.
Pain Hpa said that Saturday’s meeting would also be attended by Minster for Security and Border Affairs Lieutenant General Thet Naing Win, as well as commanders from Myanmar’s Northeastern and Eastern Military headquarters.
Last week, Shan State minister of Security and Border Affairs Colonel Aung Thu sent an open letter to the SSA calling on the ethnic rebels to retreat to their outposts near area controlled by the United Wa State Army (USWA).
Talks last month between the UPWC and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), representing more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups, were stymied by disagreements over military and other issues.
The two sides, however, agreed to a fourth draft of a nationwide cease-fire agreement, whose points would require internal discussion before they meet again this month.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min, Nay Rein Kyaw and Aung Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.