At Least 10 Dead After Army, TNLA Clash in Mongmit

By Lawi Weng 4 February 2015

RANGOON — Three days of fighting between the Burmese military and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) has seen casualties on both sides of the conflict, with reports that the Burma Air Force is conducting sorties over the ethnic army’s troops in Mongmit Township, Shan State.

TNLA officers say that nine Burma Army soldiers have been killed in the conflict, which flared up on Monday while its patrol was attempting to clear poppy farms in Pan Htee Lar village, on the border of Mandalay Division. The TNLA said that the attack was prompted by an army retaliation against the patrol’s detention of two poppy farmers, and that one of its soldiers has been killed in the fighting on Monday.

State-run newspaper The Mirror reported today that 10 members from the TNLA and five Burma Army soldiers were killed during fighting on Monday and Tuesday. Disputing the TNLA account, The Mirror said the clash broke out in nearby Shwe Nyaung Pin village, after troops pursued TNLA forces who had detained the two villagers for refusing to pay taxes to the armed group.

Mai Aike Kyaw, the TNLA communications officer, denied the accusation.

“Since we formed our army, we never demanded money from our people,” he said. “We only seek to recruit soldiers from our people, and only from those who are 18 years old and over.”

The TNLA says the Burma Air Force was deployed from Lashio on Tuesday as fighting intensified, but reports of the latest casualties have yet to emerge from the frontline.

“They used helicopters and a jet to attack our troops. They also attacked some of the villagers near to the fighting,” said Mai Aike Kyaw.

Residents have fled from five villages immediately west of Shwe Nauyng Pin, around the road between Mogoke and Mongmit, have fled their homes in the aftermath of airstrikes on Tuesday between 4pm and 7pm, according to an ethnic Palaung resident of Lel Thae village. He said there had been civilian casualties after an attack on the hilltop village of Pan See Lar.

“We heard the air force shot at their homes. We heard that seven people were wounded and a pregnant woman died,” he said. About 200 people are staying at a nearby Buddhist monastery after leaving their homes, according to the villager.

The Irrawaddy was unable to independently confirm the villager’s report of civilian casualties. Presidential spokesman Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy that the President’s Office had yet to receive confirmation of any Burma Air Force sorties in Mongmit. The military has yet to provide a press liaison officer for the media.

The Burmese government has been pushing for a nationwide ceasefire agreement to coincide with Union Day on Feb. 12, a prospect rapidly receding into the background with an escalation of violence around northern Shan State. Two Kachin schoolteachers were found raped and murdered in Kutkai Township on Jan. 20, and the badly burnt bodies of four Kachin civilians, who locals said had earlier been arrested by Burma Army troops, were recovered near Muse on Feb. 1.

Tar Aik Bong, the chairman of the TNLA, told The Irrawaddy last month that the TNLA was not in a position to conclude a ceasefire agreement with the government.

“We could not conclude a ceasefire agreement after only meeting [with government peace negotiators] one time,” he said. “We could only sign a ceasefire agreement when we are given the right to more talks.”

The TNLA and the Kachin Independence Army are the only two major ethnic armed groups that have yet to sign bilateral ceasefires with the central government.