RANGOON — The Burma Army has continued attacks on two positions held by the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), firing artillery rounds on the rebel group’s headquarters and a nearby base, according to local sources.
The attacks in Kyethi Township, on a village called Mai Noung that hosts an SSA-N base, and a river port at Tar San Pu village, began with low-intensity fighting last week after the Burma Army ordered the Shan armed group to withdraw from its headquarters.
Col. Sai Hla, spokesman for the SSA-N, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that fighting had been a near daily occurrence since clashes first broke out on Oct. 6, including an artillery bombardment of the Shan rebels’ Wan Hai headquarters on Sunday.
“They used 120 mm artillery and shot eight times to our headquarters yesterday. They have been fighting us for a week. They keep moving closer to our headquarters,” he said, adding that SSA-N troops could see Burma Army deployments in the distance.
Sai Hla said hostilities were triggered by a Burma Army request that the SSA-N withdraw from a strategic river port at Tar San Pu village. Fighting erupted after the SSA-N refused to comply.
“They have surrounded about five or six places near our headquarters. For us, we cannot withdraw from Tar San Pu,” he said, explaining that the village’s port serves an important function as an escape route for SSA-N troops.
“This is the only remain point where we could get out. This is why we need to defend this point.”
According to Hla Shwe Thein, a committee member for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kyethi Township, 67 people, including elderly civilians and children, have fled the fighting and have taken shelter at a Buddhist monastery in Mai Noung.
The Burma Army and SSA-N have occasionally clashed despite the two sides having signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement in January 2012. SSA-N leaders have claimed that the fighting has been due to Burma Army encroachment in the rebel armed group’s area of control.
Meanwhile, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) issued a statement on Oct. 8 urging the Burma Army to cease its attacks on SSA-N positions.
“It is an important time in Burma as elections are coming soon, as is the NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement] signing,” said the statement from one of the country’s two major ethnic Shan political parties.
The SSA-N is siding with the majority of Burma’s ethnic armed groups in opting not to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement on Oct. 15, when eight groups are expected to ink the pact.
The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a grouping of 12 ethnic armed groups, also condemned the Burma Army offensive against the SSA-N headquarters and in other ethnic areas, including Kachin State, in recent weeks.
“Though the president [Thein Sein] and members of his government have been broadcasting the refrain of, ‘From NCA to resolution of political problems through negotiation peacefully’ … the Myanmar Tatmadaw has been escalating its offensives,” read a statement from the group over the weekend.
“We assume that the use of a deceitful ‘good cop-bad cop’ strategy to confuse the people attests to the fact that this is a government that does not want genuine peace.”