More Joint Rebel Attacks to Come, TNLA Warns Myanmar Military

By Lawi Weng 15 August 2019

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) has described Thursday’s deadly attacks by a joint force of allied ethnic armed groups on multiple locations in Mandalay and nearby northern Shan State as a counteroffensive in response to the Myanmar military’s recent offensives in Rakhine and Shan states, and vowed there would be more such attacks to come.

Joint forces combining rebel fighters from the TNLA, the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) on Thursday morning attacked police outposts, toll gates, a drug trafficking control office and a local military headquarters in Shan’s Naung Cho Township, as well as the Myanmar military’s Defense Service Technological Academy (DSTA) in Pyin Oo Lwin in Mandalay Region. The Shan State attacks killed eight Myanmar soldiers and a police officer, according to the TNLA, while the military said the DSTA attack killed a civilian and wounded one soldier. Rescue workers attending to casualties at the scene of one of the Shan State attacks put the casualty figures higher, however.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Brigadier General Tar Phone Kyaw of the TNLA described Thursday’s attacks as “just the beginning”.

“If they increase their military offensive in our area, we will launch an even bigger offensive,” he said, referring to the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw).

He described Thursday’s series of attacks by the ethnic alliance as part of a “counteroffensive” against the Myanmar Army’s operations against the AA in Rakhine, as well as its ongoing offensive in northern Shan State against the TNLA and MNDAA.

“We asked them to stop their military offensive in Rakhine. But they did not stop it. We asked them to stop their offensive into our area, but they keep doing it. Therefore, we had to launch a counteroffensive,” he said.

Describing itself as the “Brotherhood Alliance”, the joint ethnic armed force launched Thursday’s attacks three days after issuing a statement calling on the Myanmar Army to stop fighting in Rakhine and northern Shan states.

The TNLA warned civilians in northern Shan State not to travel in the fighting-affected areas, saying more attacks were on the way. “We want to tell civilians to avoid traveling in the conflict areas in order to minimize civilian casualties during our military offensive,” Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw said.

He said the counteroffensive was aimed solely at the alliance’s enemies and legitimate military targets. Unfortunately civilians sometimes strayed into the targeted areas and became casualties, he said.

Providing details of the attacks in Shan State on Thursday, Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw told The Irrawaddy that the Myanmar Army defended the Goke Twin police outpost in Naung Cho Township when the joint force attacked it at 3 a.m. “Police ran away when we attacked their base. But soldiers defended the base. We killed eight of them and seized the base,” he said.

He said the joint force seized 25 rifles and two pistols at Goke Twin. He claimed that the pistols were from senior army officers who were among the eight soldiers killed. He said 15 of the weapons were seized at the police outpost, and the remainder found nearby. “If we count their [abandoned] guns, the Myanmar Army’s casualties may amount to more than 20, but we could not find any other bodies,” he added.

Ko Myo of the Philanthropists Without Borders Association based in Lashio told The Irrawaddy that his rescue team had retrieved 11 dead bodies at Goke Twin: one civilian driver, three police officers and seven Myanmar Army soldiers.

Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw said the joint force also attacked another police base in Naung Cho Town, killing one police officer. The group said it seized seven guns there, and detained and later released seven police officers.

“When we tried to seize their base, they counterattacked. Therefore, we burned the base and one police officer was killed,” Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw said.

Social media commenters accused the joint force of killing civilians at both the Goke Twin and Naung Cho police bases. Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw denied the accusation, saying those killed were not civilians.

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy that some army personnel were killed in the Goke Twin attack, but did not say how many. He said the Tatmadaw would take action against the joint force soon.