Two Myanmar government soldiers died in a rocket-propelled grenade attack during clashes with armed ethnic Ta’ang rebels in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state, the rebel group said Tuesday, as the authorities beefed up security around the conflict area.
Two government troops were also injured in the brief clash, according to a statement by the Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) and its army wing, the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
They are the first casualties reported in recent months in the battle between the two sides since the beginning of October, adding to concerns over ongoing fighting between government troops and the Shan State Army-North in Shan state, and other rebels groups in Kayin and Mon states in the southeastern part of the country.
The clashes come in the midst of efforts to forge an elusive nationwide cease-fire accord.
Captain Tar Pan La, the TNLA’s deputy information officer, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that fighting between government troops from a rapid infantry battalion and rebel soldiers took place on Monday at about 5 a.m. in the vicinity of Namkhe village in Loilen district’s Namsang township.
“The villagers heard gunshots from around the area near the village, so they all stayed indoors because they were afraid,” he said. “They did not venture out at all.”
Mine Ye Kyaw Thu, chairman of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in Namsang Township, told RFA that the government had doubled its troops amid the fatal clash.
“Instead of withdrawing their offensive, they have doubled the number of troops that they initially had to 400 in the last four days,” he said.
On Monday, more than 60 truckloads of troops were reinforced, creating havoc in the area where the troops have been operating, prompting the clashes, he added.
“It is a problem," he said.
Area residents said that clashes between the army and TNLA have ensued since the beginning of October.
Brothers in arms
TNLA soldiers from the ethnic Palaung group are an ally of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which also operates in northern Shan State aside from its traditional stronghold in Kachin state.
The TNLA and the KIA are the only two armed groups that have not signed bilateral cease-fire agreements with the Myanmar government since President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration took over from the former military junta in 2011, according to The Irrawaddy online journal.
The most recent clashes involving the TNLA occurred as the government’s Union Peacekeeping Work Committee (UPWC), which oversees negotiations with armed ethnic groups, proposed setting up a joint liaison body with the Shan State army-North, to prevent further fighting in Shan State, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma.
The government has been negotiating with all of the country’s ethnic armed groups to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement, although the process has repeatedly stalled.
Once they reach an agreement, the government intends to hold a political dialogue aimed at giving the ethnic groups greater representation in parliament.
The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of 12 armed ethnic rebel groups, called on the government last week to end its military offensive in ethnic states as negotiations for a nationwide cease-fire accord continue.
The coalition said the offensive was damaging the ethnic rebels’ trust in the government.
Early this month, five government soldiers and two ethnic rebels from the Shan State Army-North died in skirmishes in Kyethi township, rebel groups said. About 50 government troops and three Shan insurgents were wounded.
Around the same time, five ethnic Karen armed rebels were killed while fighting with government troops in Mon state near the border with Thailand, forcing residents to flee villages and schools to close, police there said.
Reported by Wai Yam Moe Myint for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.