Myanmar’s military has joined forces with an armed ethnic group that recently signed a “nationwide cease-fire agreement” with the government to launch an offensive against a holdout rebel army in the country’s Shan state, sources said Tuesday.
Captain Mai Aie Kyaw, a spokesman for the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), told RFA’s Myanmar Service that his group had clashed with the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and government troops in recent days near Mong Wee village in northern Shan state’s Namhkam township.
“We’ve been fighting against the RCSS (Restoration Council of Shan State) since Nov. 27,” he said, referring to the political organization which oversees the SSA-S.
“During the last three days, government forces have joined the RCSS in fighting us.”
Mai Aie Kyaw said the clashes had led to “casualties on both sides,” without providing details, and predicted that the “fighting could become worse over time.”
An official with the RCSS/SSA-S, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, also confirmed that his group had been fighting with the TNLA in Shan state.
A report by the Irrawaddy online journal cited the TNLA as saying that clashes began on Nov. 27 after the SSA-S crossed into frontline territory and opened fire in a move prompted by the military. At least three TNLA soldiers have been injured in intermittent fighting since, it said.
The Irrawaddy quoted Mai Aie Kyaw as saying that the conflict had intensified over the weekend in Mong Wee after Myanmar Army Light Infantry Divisions 88 and 77 assisted the SSA-S by launching artillery fire into TNLA territory.
The Myanmar military was not available for comment on the fighting as of Tuesday.
The 6,000-strong SSA-S was one of eight armed ethnic groups that signed a so-called “nationwide cease-fire agreement” (NCA) with the government on Oct. 15.
The TNLA and two groups that have fought alongside it in Shan state’s Kokang self-administered zone—the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—were not invited to sign the NCA by the government. Seven other ethnic armies cited their exclusion as the reason they refused to enter into the pact.
On Monday, the Myanmar Times reported that representatives of the RCSS/SSA-S will meet with government officials in mid-December to approve members of a Joint Monitoring Committee to observe troop movements and begin talks on repositioning their forces as a follow up to the NCA.
Meanwhile, fighting between the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N)—the armed wing of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP)—and the government army since Oct. 6 has displaced about 10,000 residents from central Shan state.
The two sides had a cease-fire agreement in place from January 2012, but both have blamed each other for the outbreak of new fighting. The SSPP, which also opted out of the NCA, has suggested the conflict was initiated as part of a bid by the military to force it to sign the October peace deal.
NCA to parliament
Also on Tuesday, government negotiator Minister Aung Min submitted the NCA to Myanmar’s legislature in the capital Naypyidaw, where parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann told lawmakers they will have two days to debate whether to approve the document.
“The government’s intention was to ensure a nationwide cease-fire, to initiate political dialogue with ethnic armed groups and to lay the foundation of the peace process for future governments,” Aung Min said of the agreement while delivering it to parliament on President Thein Sein’s behalf.
The NCA was delivered for approval following a three-day meeting of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee—consisting of representatives from the government and armed groups—which concluded Monday at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Yangon.
The Myanmar Times quoted representatives of armed groups who expressed hope after the meeting that the NCA would pass through parliament “without any difficulty,” citing concerns that lawmakers may amend the pact’s text. Senior government peace negotiators have assured the groups that parliament will not make any changes.
The conclusion of the three-day meeting also saw nine representatives from the government and military, ethnic armed groups and political parties tasked with devising a political dialogue framework by Dec. 5, according to the Times.
According to the text of the NCA, the framework must be completed within 60 days of signing, giving an effective deadline of Dec. 14.
The report cited Hla Maung Shwe, a senior adviser at the MPC, as saying that the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee will then meet Dec. 7-8 to discuss the draft of the framework.
Reported by Win Naung Toe, Kyaw Htun Naing and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.