Fighting Continues in Shan State Between Myanmar Military and RCSS

By Lawi Weng 3 March 2020

Fighting broke out in Shan State’s Mong Kai Township on Tuesday between the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Myanmar army, despite the ethnic rebels’ recent retreat from the area.

Sai Sam Murng, regional lawmaker for nearby Keysi Township, told The Irrawaddy that fighting broke out around 11 a.m.

“We heard gunfire for about 15 minutes,” he said. “Fighting has broken out every day. When the fighting in Keysi goes silent, then we hear it again from Mong Kai.”

RCSS spokesperson Major Kham San told The Irrawaddy that the small battle Tuesday morning broke out after the two sides met each other while traveling. He added that military tensions in the area increased after the Myanmar army stepped up its troop deployments.

The RCSS, also called the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), said they withdrew from their Loi Twan Hill base on Sunday as they hoped to end the fighting with the Myanmar army, but the group reported that the army then fired artillery shells into Shan villages.

According to an RCSS video on Facebook, the group killed at least four Myanmar military soldiers and seized guns and ammunition.

The recent bout of fighting began on Thursday when the Myanmar army attacked an RCSS base on Loi Twan Hill, in Mong Kai Township, according to RCSS spokesperson Major Kham San. Lawmaker Sai Sam Murng said the fighting has escalated since then and displaced over 300 local residents.

Myanmar military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy that the RCSS had attacked military troops on Friday and denied the RCSS’ accusation that the military attacked first. The spokesperson was not available for further comment on Tuesday.

The Myanmar army has suffered causalities, included some fatalities, but the spokesperson did not say how many were killed or wounded.

The RCSS also said that before the fighting began, the military informed them that its troops would be in the area in order to provide security for a group of Shan State ministers traveling to Mong Kai, as well as to launch a renewed crackdown on illegal drugs.

“We saw it as [the military] just coming to attack us, but they gave some seasons,” Maj. Kham San said.

The RCSS major said that the current fighting is not the fault of the RCSS because the group must defend itself as the Myanmar military ramps up its troop deployments in the area.

“Our stance has been very clear: we will continue to meet with them, but we will fight back in self-defense,” said Maj. Kham San.

There are now 200 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Mong Kai and over 160 in Keysi Town, most of whom are staying at Buddhist monasteries, according to Sai Sam Murng.

“Those IDPs will problems with food if they have to stay a long time at the monasteries,” the lawmaker said.

The RCSS signed an initial ceasefire with the Myanmar army in 2011 and joined the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in 2015. The ethnic armed group is involved in ongoing peace negotiations with the government and the military but fighting has periodically broken out in Shan State between the two sides, due in part to the fact that there is no clear demarcation of each group’s territory.

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