New clashes flared between government troops and an armed ethnic group in northern Myanmar’s Shan state on Wednesday, the same day as a new civilian president was sworn into office, vowing to work towards peace and national reconciliation in the country.
Major Tar Aik Kyaw, spokesman of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), told RFA’s Myanmar Service that his forces engaged in fresh hostilities with government troops in the early morning at Khokat village in Mantong township.
There were casualties on both sides and two villagers were wounded, but no further details were known, he said.
Nearly three hours later, a second clash occurred near Nangpar village in Kyaukme township.
“We didn’t suffer any casualties, but the Myanmar army had some wounded,” he said.
Later in the day, Htin Kyaw of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, took his oath of office and accepted the presidential seal from former President Thein Sein, pledging that the new government will pursue national reconciliation and peace to end Myanmar’s decades of civil war.
Thein Sein’s administration signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with eight of the country’s armed ethnic groups last October, but excluded the TNLA because it was engaged in hostilities with the Myanmar army.
Fighting in the region since late last November has forced thousands of people in Kyaukme and Namhkam townships to flee their homes.
Sentencings in Rakhine
In a related development, a court in Kyauktaw township in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state handed down sentences of three to five years in prison to 11 men for unlawful association with the ethnic rebel Arakan Army (AA), said Maung Aye Saw, who has assisted the accused men from Mrauk-U, Minbya, Kyaukpyu and Rathedaung townships.
Four of the men were arrested last April in connection with the clashes between government troops and AA forces in the Pichaung area of Kyauktaw, while the other seven were apprehended in December in connection with clashes in the Runchaung area, Maung Aye Saw said.
On Wednesday, the same court sentenced 12 others to three to five years in jail for their involvement with the AA, local media reported.
After the clashes, authorities arrested dozens of locals from various townships on charges of associating with unlawful groups such as the AA. More residents have been charged and are awaiting trial, according to the online journal The Irrawaddy.
In January, Myanmar’s government army vowed to eliminate the AA, accusing it of creating instability in the region. The AA did not sign the NCA.
On Tuesday, Thein Sein lifted the state of emergency imposed on conflict-ridden Rakhine state in 2012 following violent clashes between Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims, as one of his last acts in office.
Meeting in Chiang Mai
In the meantime, armed ethnic groups met Thursday in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to map out a strategy for mediating peace among various rebel armies and the government,
“We are holding this workshop so we can brainstorm about how we can find a systematic strategy as a team,” said Khoo Oo Reh, leader of the 13-member Delegation for Political Negotiations (DPN), which was set up to prepare for political talks with the NLD government.
“We are just making preparations for this strategy,” he said.
Members of the workshop will build upon the experiences of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represented more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups, and a senior delegation of armed ethnic group leaders who negotiated the NCA with Thein Sein’s administration, he said.
The DPN was formed to serve as a bridge between the government and the United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFC), an alliance that includes armed ethnic groups that did not sign the NCA.
Reported by Min Thein Aung, Thiri Minzin and Aung Moe Myint. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.