Three more civilian deaths occurred in recent days as heavy fighting continues between the Burma Army and the Kachin, Ta’ang and Kokang’s northern alliance in Shan State, bringing state-media reported deaths to 13.
About 40 people have been injured and more than 6,000 displaced, with 3,000 taking refuge in China and the remainder in Muse Township, where trade routes have been disrupted. Unofficial estimates put the numbers higher than government estimates.
According to the State Counselor’s Office Information Committee, a vegetable truck conductor named Maung Chin was fatally shot on Thursday afternoon by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), while the driver managed to escape.
Two people in Namkham Township died when artillery fire hit their house on Wednesday afternoon, according to the government. The victims were U P Kai Sho and his son P Kat Sao. Another son, P Kai Kyone, was admitted to the hospital after being injured.
TNLA spokesperson Mai Aik Kyaw said the ethnic armed groups do not shoot civilians intentionally.
“We do not shoot at civilians on purpose,” said TNLA spokesperson Mai Aik Kyaw, adding, “But we cannot say if they are between the fighting. The shooting could also come from the military side too.”
In their releases on Friday, both the government and the rebel groups accused the other of launching artillery attacks that resulted in the civilian deaths.
Kachin Independence Organization vice chairman Gen Sumlut Gun Maw said in a Facebook post on Thursday that the fighting was the consequence of government negligence regarding requests for a meeting to resolve the conflict.
“[We] requested negotiation many times, not military engagement. For more than three months we requested direct meetings for the KIO negotiation team,” read his note, which added that no response was ever received.
Khu Oo Reh, the head of the Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN) of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), told The Irrawaddy, the KIO’s – a member of UNFC – “numerous requests for a meeting were not responded to and the group was told there was no guidance from the highest state authorities,” during a peace commission meeting in early November.
State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said on Wednesday that all active ethnic armed groups could join the government peace process by signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement.
Ethnic groups did not respond positively to her announcement and have said that she has unfairly ignored military offensives in the region.
“We are staying true to the peace process and seeking a solution through political talks despite setbacks and difficulties,” said Khu Oo Reh.
He reiterated that the UNFC remains firmly committed to participating in political negotiations and wants all-inclusion in the peace process.
The DPN and the government planned to meet again later this month to continue their talks, but due to this week’s attack and military tension, the meeting is likely to be delayed.
Heavy fighting has continued in Kutkai and Muse townships, where the Burma Army has used its air force to attack the ethnic alliance groups.
According to locals in Namkham, gunfire was heard near Man Wein Gyi IDP camps on Friday and bridges and routes to Muse and Namkham are blocked.
The northern alliance groups told locals to avoid the use of these routes to reduce civilian casualties.
“Our people, mostly from rural areas, have suffered the consequences of civil war for many years,” said Khu Oo Reh, adding that “there was no care for them, and now the causes have spread to some of the urban population as well.”
Critics have said the State Counselor—once a pro-democracy icon—lacks a motive to speak out for ethnic people in rural areas, where hardship is the worst.
Since the State Counselor’s Office Information Committee was formed last week, news updates have been publicized through its social media, quoting information mostly from the Ministry of Defense.
“There will be no solution if positive approaches to solutions are ignored and more flames are added to the fire,” said Khu Oo Reh, referring to a propaganda war being waged with unverifiable information.
In the meantime, the Chinese government has urged for a stop to the fighting when top officials visited Burma this week.
The United Wa State Party (UWSP), the political wing of the United Wa State Army and the group with Burma’s largest ethnic army, issued a statement on Thursday calling for both sides to cease fire “as soon as possible,” as it has caused “serious instability” affecting the livelihoods of the local people on the Sino-Burma border.
The UWSP also pledged to provide necessary assistance for settlement and negotiation, the statement read.