In Person

Kokang Rebel Group Denies Military's Conscription Claims

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 13 February 2019

On Dec. 21 the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, declared a unilateral ceasefire lasting until April 30. It said it hoped to hold talks with non-signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement during that time. Nearly two months after declaring the ceasefire, however, it has not held talks with any of them.

Meanwhile, fresh fighting has broke out in northern Shan State’s Kunlong Township between the Tatmadaw and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army — the MNDAA or Kokang Group, a member of the Northern Alliance — and continued into this week.

The Office of the Commander-in-Chief says hundreds of civilians in Kunlong have fled their homes to avoid conscription by the MNDAA and that it will do whatever it takes to protect the population. Yet more than 300 civilians in Kunlong fled their homes on Jan.28 and 29.

The Irrawaddy reporter Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint interviewed Lt. Col. Phone Win Naing, spokesman for the MNDAA, about developments since the Tatmadaw declared the ceasefire in late December.

What steps were taken to have peace talks after the Tatmadaw announced a ceasefire?

The Northern Alliance was the first to release a statement in response. China helps us and meets our requests for help. We have considerable trust in China. We also have trust in the government for the time being. But the Tatmadaw still looks at us with a jaundiced eye. After it announced a ceasefire, we stayed back. But the Tatmadaw launched attacks on our friend and ally, the Arakan Army. We want the international community to know that the Tatmadaw is treating us unfairly.

There were also clashes with the TNLA (Ta’ang National Liberation Army). They attacked us on Feb. 4. Clashes took place at Hon Aik, our headquarters, and around Hsenwi, west of the Thanlwin River. The Tatmadaw does not keep its promise. It bullied our civilian members and set their houses on fire. It does whatever it wants and puts the blame on us. It is not that civilians fled because we are listing them for conscription, but because it (the military) is bullying them.

So we are relocating local people [to safety], and it is attacking us as we do so. Many of our soldiers were killed and civilians have suffered. We don’t know what to do. We wish the international community knew this.

How did the Tatmadaw attack Hong Aik? Is it targeting your headquarters?

It is always present in the areas surrounding our headquarters. It fired artillery at us, and infantry also came and attacked us. They might have been targeting our headquarters, or they might have been preparing.

But the Tatmadaw said it attacked because your group is conscripting.

This is our region. This is the place where our ethnic people live. It is just their accusation. They came and burned our villages and forced our people to leave (their houses on) the hills. Because our people could not stand it, they have joined us and are taking part in the revolution.

But hundreds of people fled from the Kokang, and they said they fled because of conscription. What do you want to say about that?

There will be bad people in any ethnic group. They will accuse us of doing bad things. They are just pretending.

The Tatmadaw said your group has had nine call-ups.

That is wrong. All the ethnic people living along the border are our friends, our ethic people. We are united. We don’t need to conscript. In spite of the Tatmadaw doing those things [to mar our image], many have fled to join us in order to rise up against the Tatmadaw. The Tatmadaw just claims nine times, 10 times or even 100 times.

Are there still clashes today? What is the situation like?

First, we value China’s help. We have to keep our promises when a foreign country helps our country. Second, we want the government to properly control the Tatmadaw [to make sure it observes its ceasefire]. We will keep our promise. We also want the international community to help [with the peace process]. We are sorry that our country has such a Tatmadaw. It kills its own people. I think Myanmar is the only country in the world where the Tatmadaw kills its own compatriots.

Has the Tatmadaw offered to hold peace talks with ethnic leaders?

We have been waiting for it. But it hasn’t come.

Hasn’t the government contacted your group yet?

It might have contacted the FPNCC [Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee, or Northern Alliance]. As we are under the FPNCC, we are waiting for its order.

What does the MNDAA want to discuss with the Tatmadaw and the government?

Yes, there are many things. We, the MNDAA, don’t have the right to say. I can’t say anything without the order of the FPNCC.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.