Analysis: Fractious Peace Process Lies Behind Kokang Clash

By Lawi Weng 7 March 2017

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi asked the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) to cease armed attacks and instead join the negotiating table for national peace, in a statement released Tuesday. It came one day after MNDAA attacks in Laukkai—the administrative capital of the ethnic Kokang region of Shan State—left at least 10 dead.

“Such armed conflicts can’t bring any good benefits and are devoid of any meaning for all the ethnic nationalities and Union citizens residing in the Union,” read the statement.

“They make the ethnic tribes, local ethnic nationalities and Union citizens living in the areas drown in a sea of sorrow,” it added.

The MNDAA attack on Laukkai—the first in the town since a large offensive in February 2015—killed at least five policemen and five local residents and sent thousands fleeing across the border to China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called for an immediate ceasefire in response to the hostilities and said that China was providing assistance on humanitarian grounds on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

He urged both sides to adopt peaceful means in resolving their differences through dialogue and consultation.

The State Counselor’s statement said that progress had been made in a meeting between ethnic bloc the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)’s Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) and representatives of the government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) on March 1.

At that meeting, the NRPC representatives and the UNFC—of which the MNDAA is a member—agreed “in principal” to allow the MNDAA, the Arakan Army (AA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) to participate in the upcoming 21st Century Panglong Union peace conference, according to a statement from the DPN on Friday last week.

Burma Army General Mya Tun Oo, however, had previously said at a press conference on Feb. 28 that the military would not invite the three armed groups to join the peace process.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the MNDAA said that it had launched Monday’s attack for two reasons: Gen Mya Tun Oo’s comments that it would be forbidden from joining the upcoming peace conference, and the fact that the Burma Army has deployed many troops in MNDAA-controlled areas.

The Burma Army itself said that it had clashed with the MNDAA 56 times between Jan. 19 and Feb. 11 this year in a statement condemning the attack on Tuesday.

“The attack on the town of Laukkai was unavoidable,” said the MNDAA statement. “We did it alongside our brothers in other ethnic armed groups.”

Fighting has been ongoing in other areas of northern Shan State, where the Northern Alliance—to which the MNDAA, AA, TNLA and the Kachin Independence Army belong—and the Burma Army have clashed.

MNDAA troops also attacked other five Burma Army bases near the town, according to their statement.

“With this attack, we taught a lesson to the Tatmadaw who have destroyed peace in the Union for over half a century,” said the statement.

The statement also referred to a three-day meeting of seven ethnic armed groups in Panghsang, the capital of the Wa region in eastern Shan State, hosted by The United Wa State Army (UWSA) prior to Gen Tun Mya Oo’s comments last month.

The UWSA urged ethnic armed groups to shun the NCA and put itself forward to head a political team tasked with negotiating with the central government.

Gen Tun Mya Oo “obviously refused to accept our ethnic armed groups’ effort in our meeting in Panghsang and our agreement to work for peace,” by insisting groups sign the NCA before joining political dialogues, the statement said.

In the statement, the MNDAA accused the Burma Army of cutting off political dialogue between the National League for Democracy-led government and ethnic armed groups.

The MNDAA said the NCA was unfair and that the Burma Army was forcing ethnic armed groups to sign it by attacking them.

The Burma Army told the MNDAA, TNLA and AA that the groups could join the peace conference if they first announced they had abandoned their armed struggle, according to the statement.

The Ministry of Defense reported in their statement that Burma Army found 20 burned bodies of the MNDAA soldiers and 13 kinds of weapons including two RPGs and related ammunition.

There were deaths and injuries of Burma Army soldiers, including officers, according to the statement.

The Ministry of Defense also labeled the attack as an attempt to undermine the sovereignty of the country and the state and cause panic among the people.