Myanmar’s army said on Wednesday that it had captured “seven or eight” outposts of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Shan state, accusing the ethnic army of operating improperly in a controlled area during a four-month ceasefire that ends on April 30.
In the first truce ever initiated by the powerful military, known as the Tatmadaw, the army declared a unilateral four-month cease-fire from Dec. 21 to April 30 in Kachin and Shan states, regions of the country that have been under military conflict for much of the country’s 70 years of independence from Britain.
The move was designed to entice separatist ethnic armies to join peace talks with the central government, a key policy goal of national leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The KIA outposts taken over by the army after three days of fighting beginning on April 21 were near Mongpaw Village in the Muse district of Northern Shan State, which lies along the border with China’s Yunnan province.
Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun of the Miliary’s Information Team told RFA the fighting occurred because the KIA had violated “a bilateral agreement on controlled areas.”
“The government army has had an outpost in Mongpaw area since then. After that, the KIA built an outpost near ours in Mongpaw, only 6,000-10,000 meters from our outpost. We had to fight them on April 21, 22 and 23 because they entered our controlled area,” he said.
“We were able to seize seven or eight KIA outposts near Mongpaw Village,” he said.
“The Northern Shan region is not their controlled area,” added Zaw Min Tun.
"They took advantage of the ceasefire declared by the government army and entered into our controlled area during the ceasefire period. That’s why we had to take our area back,” he said.
RFA’s Myanmar Service called KIA spokesman Colonel Naw Bu for a comment, but he was unavailable.
But Naw Bu told RFA on April 22 and 23 that the peace process was under threat because of the government army’s offensive attacks on several KIA posts during the ceasefire period.
There was no immediate reports of casualties on either side.
The fighting in Shan State flared up just a week before the Tatmadaw and the government’s Peace Commission are slated to meet on April 30 with leaders of the KIA, Arakan Army (AA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—for ethnic armies known collectively as the Northern Alliance.
Zaw Min Tun and San Aung from the Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG) told RFA that the talks will focus on a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA), which 10 ethnic military groups have already signed. The Northern Alliance members and other ethnic armies have not, and the alliance has recently expressed a preference for bilateral truces with the army.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has made the NCA a prerequisite for ethnic armies to participate in periodic peace negotiations, known as the 21st-Century Panglong Conference and the Union Peace Conference, to try to end decades of armed conflict.
“The fighting shouldn’t occur when we are getting closer to the meeting,” said San Aung of the PCG.
“We got worried as the fighting is going on close to the peace talks, but I think, this meeting on April 30 will not be affected as it was already planned a few months ago, although both sides have to be careful,” added San Aung.
He said that next week’s meeting would focus on the ceasefire agreement and on allowing internally displaced war refugees to return to their homes.
Reported by Kyaw Thu and Thet Su Aung from RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written by Paul Eckert.