Burma Army, Shan Rebel Peace Pledge Signatory Clash

By Lawi Weng 3 March 2015

RANGOON — Fighting has again flared between the Burma Army and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-South), with a member of the rebel group accusing government troops of staging an attack on its base in a village of Shan State’s Mauk Mae Township.

The clashes on Saturday come about three weeks after the ethnic armed group signed a pledge of commitment to Burma’s peace process with the government, which for its part agreed to work toward preventing further armed clashes and “building a Union based on democratic and federal principles.”

Col. Sai Oo of the SSA-South on Tuesday accused the government of “taking political advantage” of the ethnic armed group without practicing a genuine détente.

“They [the Burma Army] got some tip that there was a training at our base,” he said. “We were only having a capacity-building training for youth, however, not military training. So, they came to attack our base. The fighting lasted two hours. We have not yet heard of any casualties.”

SSA-South chairman Lt-Gen Yawd Serk signed the so-called Deed of Commitment with President Thein Sein’s government on Union Day, Feb. 12, despite many of Burma’s ethnic armed groups abstaining from the pledge. Three others—the Karen National Union, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and the KNLA-Peace Council—signed the deed.

“We are finding that they [the government] did not sign it for peace, they just took political advantage of our group by getting us to sign,” said Sai Oo.

Clashes between the Burma Army and the SSA-South have been frequent, despite the two sides having signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement in 2011 that was intended to put an end to decades of conflict.

“They [Burma Army troops on the ground] have to listen to orders,” Sai Oo said. “Of course they hate to fight, but they have to do it. Their orders came from above, as we know. But we do not know which senior army officer ordered them to attack us. We do not think that the ground troops would be disregarding orders from above in coming to attack us.”

In his monthly radio address on Sunday, Thein Sein described the Deed of Commitment as a measure to boost confidence in a peace process that many say has stalled.

“I signed the Deed not because the conditions were perfect, but because I want to take any and every opportunity I can to encourage the process, build trust and demonstrate clearly that my government [is] truly committed to a negotiated end to the armed violence that has plagued our country,” he said, according to a transcript of the speech printed in state media.

Meanwhile, a government counterinsurgency campaign in northeast Burma’s Kokang Special Region continued this week, with Burma Army troops engaged in fighting with ethnic Kokang rebels of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). That conflict, which began on Feb. 9, has killed scores on both sides and displaced tens of thousands of civilians, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency and impose martial law in the region.