The Myanmar government on Friday strongly condemned attacks by three ethnic rebel armies that left 15 security officers and civilians dead in the Mandalay region and neighboring northern Shan state, calling them “acts of terrorism” that could thwart the country’s teetering peace process.
An alliance comprising the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) launched coordinated attacks early Thursday on five sites in two areas, including a military academy in Mandalay’s Pyin Oo Lwin township, police checkpoints, and a bridge in Shan state’s Nawngkhio township.
“These incidents are apparent acts of terrorism,” President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay told reporters in Naypyidaw. “They attacked civilian targets and intentionally destroyed the checkpoint facilities for narcotic drugs.”
In all, 15 people were killed and 13 injured, he said.
“Nine soldiers and officers were killed during the attacks, and one was wounded,” he said. “Three policemen were killed, and two were injured. In addition, three civilians were killed, and 10 were injured.”
He also said that damage from the attacks totaled more than 280 million kyats (U.S. $177,100).
Zaw Htay said that the attacks occurred amid government efforts to meet with the three groups for cease-fire discussions, though the door was still open to them for possible talks.
“These attacks have severely affected the peace negotiation process led by the state, but we still have the doors open for them to join in the peace talks,” he said.
RFA’s Myanmar Service was unable to reach AA spokesman Khine Thukha or TNLA spokesmen Major Mai Aik Kyaw for comment on Zaw Htay’s statements.
All three armies have been fighting Myanmar forces in their respective regions, with the AA battling government troops in a quest for greater autonomy in Rakhine state, and the TNLA and MNDAA fighting over territory and lucrative resources in northern Shan state.
The fighting has continued in Shan state despite a temporary unilateral cease-fire declared by the Myanmar military that covers five of its command regions, but excludes Rakhine state. The cease-fire expires on Aug. 31.
Government negotiators have met four times this year with representatives from the Northern Alliance, comprising the three ethnic armies and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), to discuss the signing of bilateral peace pacts.
Stop and wait
The attacks in Pyin Oo Lwin and Nawnghkio townships, meanwhile, have affected cargo and passenger traffic in the areas, bringing vehicles traveling along the highway connecting Mandalay and Muse in northern Shan state to a halt, truck and bus drivers said.
Cargo transporters said it could take much longer until vehicles can use the highway on which 200 to 300 trucks drive daily.
“It could take a while to secure stability in the region and restore regular cargo traffic,” said Maung Htwe, a worker from the Ngwe Sandar cargo depot. “So far, the cargo trucks already on the road are stuck in nearby towns like Hsipaw. The cargo trucks getting all packed up and ready to leave have to stop and wait.”
The highway is crucial for the two-way transport of goods with agricultural, fishery, and livestock products as well as raw materials from Myanmar going to China, and electronics, construction materials, finished products, and commodities from China going to Myanmar.
Passenger bus drivers said many travelers returning to Mandalay from Hsipaw are now stuck because the operators are too afraid to leave, driver Ko Nay said. Other buses are using different, longer routes that take twice as long to reach their destination
“Many passengers are stranded in Hsipaw since the buses aren’t leaving,” he said. “Some small cars left, but they took different routes. Passengers have to pay more for the trip, and the trip takes much longer than traveling on the Union Highway road. The road conditions are also very tough.”
Officials on Friday suspended rail service between Mandalay and Lashio, the largest town in northern Shan state out of security concerns, said an official at Lashio’s rail station, adding that he did not know when regular service would be resumed.
As for the damaged Gote Twin Bridge in Nawngkhio township, Myanmar’s Ministry of Construction said Thursday that the government would build in its place a two-lane Bailey bridge, a type of prefabricated truss bridge, within five days.
Reported by Thiha Tun and Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.