Fighting on 3 Fronts in Wake of Ceasefire Deal: Ethnic Armies

By Kyaw Kha 8 April 2015

Renewed fighting was reported this week between Burma Army troops and three ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan states, less than a week after ethnic negotiators reached a tentative agreement with their government counterparts on the draft text for a nationwide ceasefire accord.

Fresh clashes erupted between government forces and Kachin, Kokang and Palaung rebels at three separate locations in northern and northeast Burma beginning Sunday, according to spokespeople from the respective armed groups.

“We clashed [with government troops] yesterday and the day before yesterday,” Daung Khar, a spokesperson for the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) technical team, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “We still do not have information on the exact number of casualties on the ground. Today there is no activity.”

The KIO is the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Daung Khar said forces from Battalion No. 11 under KIA Brigade No. 2 and government troops clashed near Tapadaung village in Mogaung Township.

Conflict resolution teams from the two sides met in the aftermath of the fighting on Monday. The KIA’s Col. Zaung Taung and Col. Than Aung from the Burma Army attended the sit-down.

“At the meeting yesterday, Col. Than Aung said they are paving a road as part of [regional] development efforts,” said Daung Khar. “The clashes broke out because they asked a KIA post near a bridge on their road construction site to leave temporarily. But now, KIA troops have left there.”

The fighting comes about three weeks after a KIA delegation met President Thein Sein and commander in chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing to discuss the proposed nationwide ceasefire and how to reduce hostilities between the two sides. But subsequently, on March 21, the Burma Army called in airstrikes against a KIA base in Mansi Township, an attack believed to be linked to timber smuggling in the region.

Meanwhile, battalions under Division Nos. 33, 11 and 66 of the Burma Army are said to have launched offensives on Sunday against Kokang rebels under the banner of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in Laukkai, the administrative capital of northern Shan State’s Kokang Special Region.

“They first fired with artillery,” MNDAA General Secretary Htun Myat Lin told The Irrawaddy. “They fired at least 20 shells. After that, they launched an offensive with army soldiers. When they were repelled, they fired artillery again and launched another offensive. On April 5 alone, they launched at least six different offensives in that way.”

The Kokang rebel spokesman claimed that the Burma Army had suffered 35 casualties, while four MNDAA soldiers were seriously injured over two days of fighting.

The government has yet to confirm the fighting, but previous reports of the Kokang conflict by state media have offered widely differing casualty totals compared with MNDAA accounts, with both sides claiming greater losses inflicted and fewer sustained. While state mouthpiece The Global New Light of Myanmar has provided unusually detailed coverage of the fighting in Kokang since it began on Feb. 9, including at times daily updates of Burma Army offensives and casualty counts, the newspaper has provided no reporting on the conflict since the draft nationwide ceasefire accord was signed late last month.

The MNDAA was not a signatory to that draft agreement.

Htun Myat Lin said that although the MNDAA had sent an open letter to Thein Sein expressing the group’s desire to hold a political dialogue with the government, no response had yet been received. He added that fighting—which has featured some of the deadliest clashes in years—was likely to recur as the government army continues to bring troop reinforcements and supplies to the area.

Elsewhere in northern Shan State, Col. Mai Phone Kyaw, a spokesperson for the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), said Burma Army troops clashed in Kyaukme Township with rebel forces of the ethnic Palaung, also known as Ta’ang.

Clashes between the TNLA and government troops had declined since the government and ethnic leaders signed the draft ceasefire pact late last month, he said, but added that troop deployments remained a major unresolved issue fueling ongoing hostilities.

“Perhaps there will be no more clashes after the NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement] is signed. I am not sure. But we can’t just sign the NCA right now—not before having a serious discussion on troop deployments,” Mai Phone Kyaw told The Irrawaddy. “If we don’t have a definite agreement on troop deployments, fighting will not end, even if an NCA is signed.”

On March 31 in Rangoon, government negotiators and the 16 ethnic armed groups that comprise the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) signed on to a draft ceasefire text. It laid out in-principle the terms of a peace agreement, but left several contentious issues to be negotiated at a political dialogue to be convened following the signing of the accord. Ethnic leaders have said an official signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement won’t come until after the ethnic armed groups have met to discuss the deal among themselves.

Unlike most of Burma’s ethnic armed groups, none of the three armies reporting renewed clashes this week has signed a bilateral ceasefire with the government.