UPDATED at 01:20 p.m. EST on 2015-10-09
Myanmar’s military threatened on Thursday to attack the headquarters of an ethnic rebel army if it fails to withdraw from its positions before the signing of a nationwide cease-fire agreement between the central government and other ethnic armies on Oct. 15, sources said.
A rebel spokesman said the warning came as a bid to pressure the group to join a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) scheduled to be signed next week between Myanmar's government and other ethnic rebel groups.
The threat against the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) came just days after government troops fired on SSA-N fighters in Myanmar's eastern Shan state, and after another group—the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), whose armed wing is the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S)—said on Wednesday that it would sign the accord.
SSA-N fighters have refused to abandon their positions and will defend themselves if attacked, a spokesman of the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), which oversees the SSA-N, told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Thursday.
“Col. Sai Nyunt Thaw from the Middle Eastern Command called our headquarters at around 9:00 a.m. this morning and told us to withdraw our forces,” the spokesman, Lt. Col. Sai La, said.
“They have asked us to do this before, but we didn’t do it then, and we won’t do it this time either,” he said, adding, “We have decided to defend ourselves against them if they attack.”
Sai La said he believes the government’s threat is aimed at coercing the SSPP, one of the few ethnic rebel groups still holding out against the NCA, to sign the accord next week.
“We have signed agreements with the government before … but there has still been fighting,” he said.
“This time, we might decide to sign the NCA if the government moves ahead to political dialogue,” after the fighting ends, he said.
Pressure to sign
On Tuesday, about 300 troops from Myanmar’s Middle Eastern Command fired on SSA-N positions near the Loilen district’s Mongshu township, causing Shan residents of five area villages to flee to safety, Sai La said in an earlier report.
Both the army group and the SSPP had failed to attend an Oct. 4 meeting between government negotiator Minister Aung Min and ethnic groups agreeing to the NCA at which the signing date of Oct. 15 was set, he said.
“I think this attack by the government is a threat, warning us to sign the NCA,” Sai La said on Tuesday.
President Thein Sein’s government has been pushing for the NCA to be signed ahead of general elections on Nov. 8 as part of a bid to end decades of civil war and pave the way for political dialogue between the central government and the ethnic groups, eight of which have now agreed to sign.
Leaders of the groups signing the accord will invite opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other prominent Myanmar political figures and ethnic leaders to witness the signing of the NCA in the capital Naypyidaw on Oct. 15, one group’s leader said.
“We have agreed to invite Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi, U Khun Oo of the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), [88 Generation students' group leader] Min Ko Naing, three representatives from the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), three from the National Democratic Force (NDF), one from the [ruling] Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and one from the NLD,” Phado Saw Kwe Htoo Win of the Karen National Union said.
“Government officials have also suggested that representatives from other groups” also be invited to witness the signing, he said.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) in Shan state will meanwhile establish a monitoring group to track cease-fire violations after the accord is signed, a participant in a meeting held in Shan state’s capital Lashio, and attended by over 30 local CSOs and representatives from the European Union, said on Thursday.
“We will establish a monitoring team to watch both sides to see whether or not they follow the NCA agreement after it is signed,” Tin Oo, an organizer of the planned group, said.
Reported by Thiha Tun, Khin Khin Ei, and Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the roles and involvement of the SSA-N and SSA-S.