Blaming the government’s military actions in the region, one of Myanmar's most powerful ethnic militias, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), joined three smaller groups in a weekend attack on 10 government targets in the country’s northern provinces.
Amid conflicting reports on casualties, RFA’s Myanmar Service has learned that least nine people were killed and 29 wounded as the coalition pressed a coordinated attack on military and police outposts and a business center.
The KIA joined the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA) in the offensive that took place in the 105-mile trade zone in Kutkai township.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi's Office announced that in addition to police and military installations, the Thein Ni-Namtu, Nant Pon and Swon Lon bridges came under attack.
"The Burma armed forces have been assaulting to destroy all political and military struggles of the ethnic peoples because they have no will to solve Myanmar's political problem by politically peaceful negotiation methods," the four groups said in a statement.
The alliance warned civilians in the area to avoid travel and to stay in a safe place.
“We issue this statement because we don’t want ordinary civilians to suffer,” AA information officer Kaing Thuka told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We, as the Northern Alliance, will respond accordingly if the Burmese army tries to give us more military pressure,” he said. “All this happens because the government had left out some of the armed groups in the peace process.”
None of the four groups signed onto the country’s 2015 nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). But the KIA’s political arm, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), took part in Aung San Suu Kyi’s 21-Century Panglong Conference, also known as the Union Peace Conference, in August.
Complicating the peace process
The AA, MNDAA and TNLA were not invited to participate because they have refused to lay down their arms in advance of the talks.
One of the government's peace negotiators, Hla Maung Shwe, told Reuters the fresh violence may severely delay the peace process.
"It was really regrettable that civilian areas have come under attack,” he said. “This is likely to further complicate the peace process.”
Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader, had high hopes that the conference would help lead to lasting peace in Myanmar after decades of the ethnic separatist civil wars that have followed its independence from British colonial rule in 1948.
Aung San Suu Kyi has little control over the military as the home, defense, border affairs ministries are appointed by the army commander-in-chief under a constitution written by the army.
The military didn’t sound like it was prepared to back down on Monday.
"We will increase the operations to secure these areas and protect the civilians," said Ministry of Defense spokesman Major General Aung Ye Win. He did not comment on questions regarding the military's next steps, Reuters reported.
Myanmar's military has actively engaged in offensives using heavy artillery and airstrikes against the four groups in Kachin and Shan states, where they are based.
Thousands seek safety
Shan state Police Chief Aung Aung told RFA that thousands of people had fled to Muse seeking shelter from the fighting.
“About 2,000 people from those areas and nearby villages have arrived in Muse and are being looked after in five separate places,” Aung Aung said.
The fighting has alarmed Myanmar’s neighbors, and China put its military on alert after a stray bullet from the fighting reportedly wounded a Chinese resident.
Border trade with China has stopped because of the fighting. Some 80 trucks carrying produce were stopped near the border.
“Border trade is disrupted, and the Chinese merchants dare not come to the Mile 105 Border Trade Office, so we have to go as far as Wanteng inside China to sell our produce,” a watermelon farmer told RFA.
Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.