The Restoration Council of Shan State has called on political parties to suspend campaigning in over a dozen townships in Shan State as renewed fighting that flared in August continued this week.
Burma Army troops from Infantry Battalions 152 and 99 clashed with Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) forces in the Kho Lan area of Loilen district on Wednesday, according to the group’s spokesperson Col. Sai La.
The colonel said at least seven engagements had occurred with government troops since August.
On Wednesday, RCSS released a statement calling on political parties campaigning ahead of Burma’s Nov. 8 general election to postpone their activities in certain townships in Shan State until hostilities had ceased.
Parties “should wait until the situation has gotten better before they continue to mobilize the public through election campaigning,” Col. Sai La told The Irrawaddy.
The Shan armed group cited 16 townships in which it said political activities should be suspended, including in Kunhing, Loilen and Kyaukme townships.
“Our troops faced both artillery shelling and bombing by six fighter jets on Wednesday,” Sai La said, adding that there were a number of casualties on both sides.
The Irrawaddy could not immediately verify Sai La’s claims which if true would be a significant escalation of hostilities between the two sides.
The RCSS had recently expressed its intention to sign the long-awaited nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), but recent clashes have thrown that pledge in doubt.
“Tatmadaw [Burma Army] offensives must stop,” Sai La said. “If they don’t, the fighting could affect the NCA, which we’re all hoping will be signed.”
Sai Nyunt Lwin, a spokesperson with the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the party would consider the armed group’s calls to suspend electoral activities.
“If the RCSS calls for us to stop, we would have to think about postponing campaigns in those areas, especially rural areas,” he said.
The SNLD put forward 156 candidates to contest seats across the Union and Shan State legislatures.
It will face stiff competition from the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, Burma’s largest ethnic political party, which is contesting 206 seats in Shan, Karenni and Kachin states, and Mandalay and Sagaing divisions.
Sai Nyunt Lwin remained optimistic that ongoing clashes in the state would not significantly affect campaigning, particularly in urban areas. However, he expressed concern that the Union Election Commission (UEC) may cancel voting in conflict-affected areas.
“Even if there’s no campaigning in certain areas, it should be okay, as long as the election happens,” he said.
The SNDP’s Nang Wah Nu, who is contesting a Lower House seat in Kunhing Township, said she would continue campaigning in the north of the township, and had informed the UEC in advance. Recent clashes in Kunhing had mainly been confined to villages in the southern part of the township, she said, but now fighting had eased.
Min Zaw Oo of the government-backed Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) said ongoing conflict in Shan State “would be sorted out.” An MPC delegation is currently in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand for a series of meetings with ethnic armed groups.
Min Zaw Oo told The Irrawaddy that MPC representatives would attempt to meet with RCSS representatives in the coming days.