As Tensions Rise Between Ta’ang and Shan, SSPP Offers Mediation

By Nyein Nyein & Lawi Weng 15 February 2016

In an effort to reduce escalating tensions and violence between the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) has offered to mediate between the two ethnic armed groups to reach a political solution.

Maj-Gen Say Htin, of the SSPP, reportedly took on the role of mediator after meeting with chairman Lt-Gen Yawd Serk of the SSA-S on Sunday. He also leads the Shan State Joint Action Committee (SSJAC), which is comprised of Shan politicians and armed group leaders.

Both the SSA-S and the TNLA recently released public statements stating that they were prepared to begin talks, but neither side could yet confirm when and where such a dialogue would be held.

Conflict in northern Shan State’s Kyaukme, Namhsan and Namkham townships has intensified since February 7, but dates back to November 27, as both the TNLA and the SSA-S claim control over parts of the territory. On Monday, The Irrawaddy reported that over 2,500 people have been displaced by fighting in the area.

The SSA-S, also referred to by its political wing, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), was a signatory to the so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the government in October last year.

The NCA was signed by eight out of 15 eligible ethnic armed groups, but others, including the TNLA, were excluded from participation.

“Only if the RCSS retrieves its 1,500-plus troops from the area will the fighting subside,” said Ta Parn La, a spokesperson for the TNLA. “The RCSS reinforced its troops in the region, where they had only 80 troops in both Kyaukme and Namkham before the NCA.”

Ta Parn La appealed to the SSPP/SSA-N—a fellow member of the armed group coalition known as the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)—to intervene on the issue, as the TNLA claims they have not been able to communicate directly with the RCSS. As early as December, UNFC leaders committed to reducing the tension, and have scheduled a meeting this week to work toward a resolution.

Col Sai La, the RCSS/SSA-S spokesperson, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that they are ready to hold talks with the TNLA leadership, adding that they have been open to such talks since December. The group alleges that the TNLA never responded to requests to meet.

“We are not able to discuss details as we are now communicating with the mediator,” Sai La said. “Effective results will come only when the stakeholders meet peacefully.”

Sai La said that Lt-Gen Yawd Serk and his organization are “ready to negotiate peacefully, as we are not enemies with other ethnic armed groups in our state.”

“We would not have to fight back if we were not attacked,” he added.

Trading Allegations

The RCSS/SSA-S and the TNLA have been exchanging allegations of abuse since fighting was first documented in late 2015.

On February 12, the mutilated bodies of two Ta’ang men—Aung Win, aged 27 and Tun Aung, aged 28—were found in northern Shan State’s Muse Township after they had been missing for ten days.

“We found the two bodies in a corn farm, in different pieces. We do not know who killed them,” said Tun Aung’s older brother Aike Sik, who also pointed out that there are no armed groups near the family’s village.

After Aung Win and Tun Aung’s disappearance, the Ta’ang Literature and Culture Association of Muse released a February 6 statement suggesting that the RCSS/SSA-S had detained the men and called for their immediate release. The Shan armed group denied any connection to the victims.

Last week, the RCSS said that 11 of their Namkham-based troops had been injured after a TNLA ambush in the Mai Wee area of the township in late November.

They also accused the TNLA of burning houses, torturing locals, and of detaining over 20 villagers, 15 of whom are still missing.

The TNLA rejects these allegations and accuses the RCSS/SSA-S of attacking them alongside government troops, a claim the Shan armed group denies.