Ethnic Armed Groups Claim Control of Border Town

By Lawi Weng 28 November 2016

MUSE, Shan State — Ethnic armed group soldiers say they have seized most of Mong Ko, a border town in northern Shan State, but the Burma Army retained control of a nearby hilltop base as fighting continued on Monday, according to local sources.

The ethnic armed groups took control of the Mong Ko border gate, the immigration zone, and most areas of the town. Then they launched an offensive against Burma Army troops in the area, according to the joint ethnic armed groups’ spokesperson, Tar Aike Kyaw. As of Monday morning, they had captured several Burma Army positions in the town.

“Already, the town of Mong Ko has fallen into the hands of the joint ethnic armed groups,” Tar Aike Kyaw told the Irrawaddy.

The Burma Army has suffered a high number of casualties, and the ethnic armed groups were able to seize many weapons, according to a video posted on Facebook by Northern Alliance-Burma.

On Saturday, the President’s Office told the Democratic Voice of Burma that the Burma Army still maintains control of Mong Ko, despite contrary statements from the ethnic armed groups.

Since Nov. 20, a coalition of four ethnic armed groups—dubbed the Northern Alliance—has carried out a military offensive against the Burma Army in northern Shan State. The ethnic armed groups include the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). It is unclear how long the offensive will continue.

“The ethnic armed groups fought again yesterday. Fighting broke out near the positions of Arakan Army soldiers,” said Tar Aike Kyaw.

In Mong Ko, soldiers from the MNDAA, AA, KIA, and TNLA approached the town from different sides before they attacked. On Monday, the ethnic armed groups appeared to control most of the town, but the Burma Army still defended a hilltop position nearby, according to Tar Aike Kyaw.

Units of the Burma Air Force have also taken part, attacking Mong Ko in an effort to assist Burma Army soldiers on the ground. More Burma Army troops were also present in other villages to the east of Mong Ko.

“We seized the town already, but we could not yet get to their hill post,” said Tar Aike Kyaw.

He said that some civilians who were trapped by the fighting have taken shelter on the hill post, and the Burma Army was allowing them to stay.

“It is hard for us to attack the Burma Army post because there are civilians present there,” he said.

In recent days, ethnic armed group soldiers have attacked several Burma Army positions in northern Shan State. The ethnic armed groups often employ guerilla tactics, attacking briefly and then disappearing, said Tar Aike Kyaw.

He added that on Sunday, the ethnic armed groups attacked for 30 minutes at a Burma Army position in the Muse 105th mile trade zone. The security situation on the Lashio-Muse roadway remained unstable. Some vehicles have been able to travel the road, but in other cases trucks were blocked from traveling.

In Muse town itself, shops and restaurants have reopened, and security appeared improved over last week, The Irrawaddy’s reporter noted on the ground. Many people were walking the streets of Muse on Monday.

Last Friday, officials from Burma and China’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense held a meeting to discuss security and development along the border.

A joint statement from the meeting said, “The Chinese side expressed its hope for a speedy solution to the current tension in the northern part of Myanmar and to restore normalcy in the border area as soon as possible.”