Deadly Fighting Erupts in Shan State: Sources

By Lawi Weng 16 May 2016

RANGOON — More than two dozen Burma Army soldiers were reportedly killed in northern Shan State last week in fighting with the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) in a village to the west of Shan State’s Kyaukme, a city 100 miles northeast of Mandalay. According to SSA-N sources, a total of 28 Burma Army soldiers were killed in Noung Kon village.

Fighting broke out in the area on Thursday, the same day a Burma Army delegation visited the border of United Wa State Army-controlled territory with SSA-N leaders.

“There were about 60 troops divided into two columns,” said a SSA-N sergeant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We killed 28 of them in the battle, including one commander. And we seized 18 guns.”

“We had four to six troops wounded, but no one was killed.”

Ethnic armed groups frequently claim to have inflicted high casualties on government troops while sustaining few themselves. The claims are difficult to independently verify, a fact compounded by the Burma Army’s opaque and media-averse posture.

Pictures circulating on social purported to show the bodies of several soldiers killed in the clash, some wearing uniforms with visible Burma Army insignia.

Maj. Sai Phone Han from the SSA-N said the Burma Army used a helicopter to fire on SSA-N ground troops on Thursday and Friday, but he did not provide additional details about the fighting.

“Many local people ran away, afraid of the fighting in the area,” he said.

The Burma Army began attacking SSA-N troops on May 5, but the army had to use a helicopter last week to support ground troops as the military was taking high casualties, according to the SSA-N sources.

About 500 local people fled their homes and took shelter in Kyaukme to avoid the fighting.

The SSA-N sergeant said he believed that the Burma Army had tried to distract SSA-N leaders by joining with them on a trip to the Wa Special Region border area, before launching a surprise attack near Kyaukme.

“We could have captured the brigadier general and his soldiers, but we didn’t,” said the SSA-N sergeant.

Fighting in Kyaukme Township has been recurrent for the Burma Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Restoration Council of Shan State, but it is rare for clashes to break out there between the Burma Army and the SSA-N.

The SSA-N was one of about a dozen ethnic armed groups that did not sign last year’s national ceasefire agreement. Its clashes with the Burma Army in recent months have centered around Wan Hai, the SSA-N’s headquarters, which is more than 100 miles southwest of where the fighting took place last week.