Myanmar Military Clashes With TNLA in Northern Shan, Shutting Down Highway

By Lawi Weng 13 November 2019

Fighting broke out in northern Shan State between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Myanmar military on Wednesday along the highway in Kutkai, stopping traffic for most of the day.

Fighting broke out in at least three places in the townships of Kutkai and Kyaukme, according to the TNLA

“Fighting broke out in Kyaukme Township this morning at 6 a.m. Another two battles broke out in Kutkai Town at 7 a.m.,” TNLA spokesperson Major Tar Aike Kyaw told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

All cars along the highway were stopped during the fighting in Kutkai. Videos posted to Facebook showed some travelers hiding inside their cars and more than a hundred cars were reportedly stopped on the road.

Myanmar army spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy that fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw and the TNLA at around 7:20 a.m. in Kutkai, and lasted for 30 minutes. He confirmed that all traffic on the highway stopped during the fighting.

“Some travelers informed us that they had seen 50 members of the TNLA. Our troops who were maintaining security on the ground attacked them,” said Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun.

According to local sources, TNLA troops withdrew from Kutkai Town after clashes in the morning but tensions remained high. Some cars were able to travel again by 4 p.m.

According to Kutkai resident Kham Mat, the Myanmar army has significantly tightened security in the town. She also said that 70 students have been evacuated from the town, as their school was damaged in one of the battles Wednesday morning.

According to the TNLA, members of the armed group took positions on the highway and then fought against the military inside Kutkai Town. It said the military deployed tanks against the TNLA.

“The reason we have to wage war in the town and on the highway is that the Tatmadaw came to attack our military bases in the jungle. They have launched military offensives since November against our brigades 2 and 3 in Kyaukme, Kutkai, Mongton and Namhsan townships,” said Maj. Tar Aike Kyaw.

Maj. Tar Aike Kyaw said he had not received a detailed report from the ground yet and did not have details regarding casualties among TNLA or Myanmar army forces.

There has been ongoing fighting between the TNLA and the military, also known as the Tatmadaw, in Kyaukme since Nov. 11, 2018. Maj. Tar Aike Kyaw said the Tatmadaw recently attacked TNLA encampments in the jungle in Kyaukme Township with support from the Tatmadaw artillery base in Kyaukme Town. The TNLA spokesperson said that as a result, civilians are very afraid of the Tatmadaw’s artillery.

“Our troops were not based in that area anymore, but [the Tatmadaw] kept shelling some of those villages,” said Maj. Tar Aike Kyaw.

The TNLA says it has lost at least six bases in Kutkai and Kyaukme townships as the Myanmar army has begun to launch more military offensives.

Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said that fighting also broke out between the Myanmar army and the TNLA on Tuesday in Kyaukme.

Maj. Tar Aike Kyaw said that after seizing bases from the TNLA, the Myanmar army handed them over to the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), as the TNLA and the RCSS are rival ethnic armed groups and have sometimes fought each other.

Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun denied the accusation.

“There is no deal with the RCSS regarding [the Myanmar military] handing TNLA bases over to them,” he said.

Peace process delayed

The National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) has delayed peace talks with the Northern Alliance—a coalition of ethnic armed groups including the TNLA, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—which were supposed to convene in October. The NRPC said they were too busy to hold the peace talks at the time. Northern Alliance members asked the NRPC to meet in the first week of November for peace talks, but there has so far been no announcement of the rescheduled talks.

China has maintained pressure on the Northern Alliance to reach a ceasefire with the Myanmar army and to sign bilateral agreements with the Myanmar government. Leaders of the Northern Alliance member groups have expressed opposition to the pressure from the Chinese government.

Last week, China’s Special Envoy for Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang met Myanmar Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyitaw to discuss how China can support the peace process in Myanmar. China has already provided both financial and technical support for the peace process.

The majority of the recent fighting between the Northern Alliance and the Tatmadaw has occurred in Rakhine State and northern Shan. Fighting has broken out almost every day in Rakhine, where there have been significant civilian casualties during clashes between the Myanmar army and the AA.

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