Ethnic Armed Groups Withdraw from Mong Ko to Protect Civilians
By Lawi Weng 5 December 2016
RANGOON — Four ethnic armed groups began to withdraw their soldiers from Mong Ko, a border town in Muse Township, northern Shan State, on Sunday night over concerns that air strikes from the Burma Air Force would destroy civilian property throughout the town, according to local sources.
“We started to move out from Mong Ko last night after we made the decision,” said Col Tar Phone Kyaw, a spokesman for the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). “We don’t want anymore of Mong Ko to be burned down.”
“So we made the decision not to control the town any longer,” he added.
On Monday, the Northern Alliance claimed that air strikes from the Burma Air Force had already targeted public schools, religious buildings, and civilian houses within Mong Ko. Many civilian buildings were destroyed in the attacks, and at least four civilians were killed and two wounded, according to a Northern Alliance statement.
Since Nov. 20, a coalition of four ethnic armed groups, dubbed the Northern Alliance, has carried out a military offensive against the Burma Army in northern Shan State. The ethnic armed groups include the TNLA, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Arakan Army (AA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
The ethnic armed groups released a statement Monday explaining their troop withdrawal from Mong Ko.
“We could seize the entire town, but we did not take this chance because we are worried about a lot of properties that belong to civilians and about civilian casualties,” said the statement.
The Ministry of Defense issued a contrary report on Sunday, stating that Mong Ko was then under the control of the Burma Army. Following many clashes with the ethnic armed groups, the ministry has started to label them “insurgents.”
Burma Army ground forces reached Mong Ko at 3 p.m. on Sunday, and many insurgent forces withdrew their troops and ran away from the town, according to the Ministry of Defense report. Burma Army soldiers recovered weapons and ammunition that were left behind by the fleeing soldiers, the report said.
However, Col Tar Phone Kyaw of the TNLA challenged the ministry’s report. The Burma Army was unable to control Mong Ko, he said, while ethnic armed groups still controlled some areas.
“More Burma Army forces have come, but they could not take anything,” said Col Tar Phone Kyaw.
On Sunday, the ethnic armed groups issued a statement calling for a nationwide ceasefire. They also requested that the government withdraw all Burma Army troops from the ethnic areas, that the government halt its military offensives, and that the government immediately launch a genuine and equal political dialogue aimed at ending the conflict.
The ethnic armed groups suggested that the Chinese government mediate the talks, since most of the current fighting has taken place along the Sino-Burma border.
The Northern Alliance also announced that it had asked the Burma Army to cease using human shields to protect its front lines. The ethnic armed groups claimed to rescue 34 civilian shields on Dec. 1 and 43 more human shields on Dec. 2, according to a Northern Alliance statement.