An ethnic Shan political organization has called for dialogue to bring about a cease-fire between opposing Shan armies in beleaguered eastern Myanmar, in an attempt to stop the fighting and advance the country's faltering peace process.
The Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), whose armed wing, the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), is one of the state’s ethnic insurgent groups, issued the call in a statement the party released at the end of a five-day congress at its headquarters in the town of Wanhai in northern Shan state's Kyethi township. Nearly 340 SSPP members attended the meeting.
The SSPP said it had tried as much as possible to negotiate between opposing Shan groups engaged in inter-ethnic clashes, but its efforts have been unsuccessful.
The party will continue to push for talks and will try to resolve political problems through political means in accordance with state and national government-level agreements signed in 2012, it said.
Shan state has long been plagued by inter-ethnic conflict as well as by hostilities between Myanmar government forces and ethnic armed groups, including the SSPP/SSA-N, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and its armed wing, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
Fighting between the RCSS/SSA and the TNLA continued to flare late last week on the outskirts of Lashio, the largest town in northern Shan state, prompting more than 200 villagers to flee their homes, the Myanmar Times reported.
Clashes in the area have occurred for more than a year, at first between the Myanmar military and a combined force of the RCSS/SSA and TNLA soldiers, but now between the two armed ethnic groups, the report said, citing Than Aung, administrator of Pan Sok village.
Previous skirmishes occurred in the area in March and July, he said.
TNLA spokesman Major Tar Aik Kyaw told the publication that his group has been involved in at least 80 clashes with the RCSS/SSA over territory this year.
The SSPP has accused the RCSS of fighting together with the government army against it, though Myanmar forces are battling RCSS troops, said Khun Sai, an educator at the Union Institute in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
“All organizations and people, including monks, are urging the Shan groups to talk,” he told RFA, adding that he believes the national military has incited the RCSS/SSA to engage in clashes with the SSPP/SSA.
“Although we are urging them to talk, one monk has been shot to death, so the problems between the Shan groups have become more complicated,” he said. “The best way to solve the problems is to talk, but we don’t understand why they won’t accept this.”
Residents forced to flee
Sai Tun Nyan, a lawmaker who represents Kyuakme constituency in the lower house of the Union parliament, said the groups have already met four times to discuss ending the hostilities.
“Though they have been meeting, we still have had more fighting in the region,” he said.
Clashes last week drove more than 100 civilians from their homes in Chone village tract, Sai Tun Nyan said. They are now staying at a displacement camp in Kyuakme.
Authorities placed 60 other residents who fled fighting in Natman village five days ago in two monasteries, he said.
“Since then, fighting hasn’t occurred again,” he said. “They might return home if there is no more fighting.”
More than 8,500 people, of whom 77 percent are women and children, remain displaced by fighting and live in 31 camps or camp-like settings in northern Shan state, according to a brief issued in September by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Those who are temporarily displaced usually return to their villages once hostilities die down.
Since the beginning of 2018, increased fighting in northern Shan state either by between ethnic armed groups and the Myanmar military or between different ethnic armies, has resulted in civilian casualties and additional displacement in several conflict-affected townships, OCHA said.
Clashes between the TNLA, the armed wing of the Palaung ethnic group, and the RCSS have intensified in recent months following a joint effort by the SSPP and the Ta’ang army to try to push back RCSS soldiers expanding into northern Shan state, according to a November report on the Shan Herald Agency for News website.
The TNLA began fighting the RCSS for the same reason after the latter signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) in October 2015, though the RCSS argued that its troops had been in the area for more than a dozen years, the report said. The TNLA has not signed the peace accord.
The RCSS also accused TNLA troops of attacking Shans who had completed military training at its headquarters and were returning home to the Namkham area in November 2015, it said.
Deadly shooting in Muse
The ongoing violence in the state was evident in a shooting Sunday night by an unknown group that killed three pro-army border guards and injured two others at a militia camp in the trading hub of Muse on the border with China, a militiaman who declined to provide his name told RFA.
The attack occurred while security guards were on duty at the border crossing police station, immigration office, and the Nantkham Myoma Militia camp, he said.
“They shot at the militia camp at around 7:10 p.m.,” he said.
“The Myoma Militia has been working together with government ministries and the military on regional security and operations,” he said. “I assume that the armed group shot us because it had a grudge.”
Muse township administrator Thu Rein said the military, and not local police, will handle the case.
“Our department will work together with the military as needed,” he said. “We have deployed military and police around town, but it’s impossible to cover all places.”
Reported by Kan Thar, Tin Aung Khine, and That Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.