The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA) launched a joint offensive against the Burma Army in northern Shan State along the China-Burma border over the weekend.
The attacks have killed at least 10 and injured 29 people, according to the government.
The border trade route has been disrupted as clashes continue near the trading hub of Muse. The Irrawaddy’s reporter Kyaw Kha interviewed Col Tar Bong Kyaw, a TNLA spokesperson, about the clashes.
What is the reason for launching the joint offensive in northern Shan State?
We launched it because it was necessary. Clashes continue and the joint military operation [aims] to make the government think more practically about armed conflicts in order to solve them as soon as possible.
Could you tell me about where clashes are taking place?
There were clashes [on Sunday] along the motor road between Kutkai, Nam Hpat Kar and 105th Mile [in Muse]. There were also intense clashes in Mong Ko as well as Mong Ton. There are clashes all over the place.
The government released information that three civilians died and 18 were injured in the clashes on Sunday. What purpose does the military operation serve?
We are not targeting civilians but casualties during clashes are normal. We are very sorry that civilians were affected. There may have been some injuries, but we later learned that it was not as many as the government claimed. We think the [government] counted injured Burma Army soldiers as civilians. We are working carefully not to harm civilians in any new clashes.
What is the main objective of the joint offensive?
The main objective is to [make the government] solve political problems through political means. We hate that the [military] urges ethnic groups to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement [NCA] on one hand and attacks the Kachin [Kachin Independence Army-KIA] on the other hand. We launched the joint offensive to [pressure the military] to cease fire and to solve the root cause of the problem through political means.
Does the alliance think the offensive is an answer to the problem?
We had to make hard choices in the face of Burma Army attacks and we think [the offensive] is the best option. The so-called democratically elected civilian government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been silent about the Burma Army’s massive offensives [in ethnic regions]. We don’t think forcing us to join the NCA through military offensives will solve political problems. Inevitably, we had to launch joint military operations.
Did your alliance realize that the attacks would affect civilians and disrupt the China-Burma trade route?
Yes, we predicted that. But we had to do this to make it clear that this problem needed to be solved by the government, army and ethnic groups. You said civilians and trade were affected, but in Kachin State, tens of thousands of people have faced hardship for many years. In our region, many Ta’ang people died from artillery fire by the Burma Army in the past month. How many people were injured and how many have fled from their homes? We had to take military action because we can no longer stand the situation.
There is the talk that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) is supplying arms and money for the alliance. Is that true?
That is speculation. Our groups cooperate in this fight for survival. Those who criticize will criticize.
Aren’t there any other means that would not harm the economy or civilians?
We have very limited options and had to choose this. It depends largely on the Burma Army and the government. They need to de-escalate offensives in our ethnic regions and they need to cease fire. Then, we will be able to find other means.
What do you think the consequences of this military operation will be?
The best thing we can hope is that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government—as the democratically elected government—will be able to lead [the peace process]. We hope Burma’s military listens to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and chooses a peaceful path. But if it seeks military means, our ethnic groups are prepared to face whatever comes.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko