YANGON—The Myanmar government called Thursday’s coordinated attacks by ethnic armed groups that killed 15 security personnel and civilians in Mandalay and nearby northern Shan State “terrorist acts” that could “seriously derail the peace process the government is working on.”
The attacks on five locations were carried out by an ethnic rebel alliance made up of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—none of which have signed ceasefires with the Union government.
President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay told the media on Friday that the serial attacks came at a time when the government was seeking to hold meetings with the groups after having proposed bilateral ceasefire agreements with each of them. The Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) has since Dec. 21, 2018 imposed a unilateral ceasefire in the northeast and northern regions where the rebel groups are active. It is due to expire at the end of this month. However, the TNLA said the areas covered by the ceasefire have seen frequent military engagements despite the Tatmadaw’s truce announcement.
“Their actions yesterday amounted to a terrorist act, as they attacked civilian targets,” U Zaw Htay said, referring to the attacks on toll gates, a drug trafficking control office and the Goke Twin Bridge. The bridge, which is part of Mandalay-Lashio-Muse Highway—an important section of the national highway system—was destroyed.
“It also seriously harms the peace process the government has been working on. They shouldn’t interrupt, damage and exploit the process,” he added.
The government had earlier invited the four members of the Northern Alliance—the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), TNLA, AA and MNDAA—for a fifth round of talks on signing bilateral ceasefire agreements in Mong La Special Region 4, which is controlled by the National Democratic Alliance Army. The government has not met with the groups since a session in Mong La on June 30. At their next meetings, they were supposed to hold detailed discussions about troops deployments and codes of conduct after signing bilateral agreements. The government and the Northern Alliance have met four times since Feb. 25.
Citing a lack of trust, three of the alliance’s members—the TNLA, AA and MNDAA—rejected the government’s proposed venue options—Naypyitaw, Yangon, Myitkyina or Lashio. Instead, they proposed meeting in a neutral place, either in an area of Myanmar not controlled by the government or in China.
Despite its condemnation of the attacks, the spokesperson said the government was keeping the door open to peace talks with armed groups, including the alliance that organized Thursday’s attacks.
He said the government would continue trying through peace agents to hold negotiations with the four northern alliance groups, and hoped “to be able to meet as soon as possible.”