Fresh clashes between Myanmar government forces and armed ethnic rebels broke out Tuesday in the country’s restive eastern Shan state, forcing hundreds of villagers to take refuge in local monasteries and underscoring the challenges the country’s new elected government will face in 2016.
The Myanmar army has been involved in various clashes with the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), the armed branch of the Shan State Progress Party, in Monghsu and Kyethi townships since early October, as well as with Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) soldiers, who operate in a large area of Shan state, including Mongmit township.
“We have fighting in Mongmit, although the fighting didn’t last long and started again,” TNLA general secretary Mai Phone Kyaw told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “Government troops attacked us.”
As of yet, there have been no reports on any casualties from the hostilities involving the TNLA.
The skirmishes have forced more villagers from Minenaung subtownship and Mineshu and Kyethi townships to flee to Taunggyi, capital of Shan state, local sources said.
More than 1,000 internally displaced people are currently in the local area, and 400 more are heading to Taunggyi, said Sai Maung, a resident of the town who is helping the refugees.
“More than 100 people arrived today, and we already have 88 people—35 children and 63 adults—in this monastery, while others are staying at the homes of their friends and relatives,” he said.
A total of about 10,000 people have evacuated their homes in volatile areas of Shan state since early October, according to local media reports.
In southern Kachin state, Myanmar forces bombed a base belonging to the Kachin independence Army (KIA) and mounted a heavy artillery attack against rebel troops near the town of Mohnyin, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
Official details of casualties were not available but at least two KIA soldiers were reported wounded in the attack, the report said.
The SSA-N, TNLA and KIA, did not sign the so-called nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with Thein Sein’s government in mid-October.
In response, the Myanmar army has increased its attacks in Shan state and deployed troops close to areas where non-signatory militias are based, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma.
While the clashes ensued, 50 representatives from Myanmar’s ethnic groups met in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for two days to discuss plans to resettle war refugees.
“We are mainly discussing and making comments on new policies, which we will issue in the future,” said Naing Han Thar, co-chairman of the United Nationalities Federal Council coalition of ethnic political parties, who participated in the meeting organized by the Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (Union of Burma).
“We will submit what we discussed today in the future political dialogue meetings,” he said. “We have a lot of refugees and internally displaced persons who we need to send home back. We are finding ways to send them back home.”
Mann Saw, chairman of the Karenni Refugee Committee, an organization that provides support to Karenni and other ethnic minority refugees from Myanmar currently residing in refugee camps in Thailand, said it is important for refugees to be able to return home with dignity and security.
The eight armed ethnic groups that have signed the NCA have decided to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, whose opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party swept the country’s Nov. 8 general elections by a landslide, to discuss prospects for nationwide peace with the next government.
“As we are working on peace with current government, we will collaborate with the new government to work on peace as well,” said Phado Saw Kwe Htoo Win, general secretary of the Karen National Union, a democratic organization representing Myanmar’s Karen ethnic minority group. “We must meet with Aung San Suu Kyi.”
“We will move forward according to the NCA that we signed,” he said Tuesday in the capital Naypyidaw. “As far as we know, NLD has a policy to work for peace, and I believe that the NLD will collaborate with us.”
Khet Htein Nan, chairman of Easing Conflict and Peace-making Process Committee, stressed the importance of the NLD continuing to build on the progress that the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has made in attaining nationwide peace.
“In our country, new authorities ignore [what’s already been done] and start everything again from the beginning, but it shouldn’t be like this,” he said. “We should carry on some good things from the previous term.
“Although eight ethnic armed groups signed the NCA, the final draft of the document is the one that all armed ethnic groups discussed and agreed to,” he said. “That’s why we have to move forward and implement it.”
Hla Maung Shwe, senior adviser at the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center, told RFA on Tuesday that 91 political parties have been invited to a meeting on No. 21 to choose 16 representatives to participate in the joint implementation coordination meeting, which was formed to create a joint ceasefire monitoring committee and a Union peace dialogue joint committee, as part of the NCA process.
The joint ceasefire monitoring committee will oversee the handling military matters, while latter one will deal with political issues.
Those selected will meet with 16 representatives from the government and military, and 16 representatives from armed ethnic groups on Nov. 24 to discuss the implementation of various points in the peace accord, Hla Maung Shwe said.
“After that, we will prepare to form a drafting committee,” he said. “We have only eight or nine days to do all this.”
If all goes according to plan, the groups will hold a meeting on Dec. 8, 9 and 10 in Naypyidaw, he said, to devise a framework for political dialogue that is slated to begin in January.
Reported by Nay Rein Kyaw, Myo Thant Khine, Thinn Thiri, Khun Yazar and Aung Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.