Myanmar Military Returns Base Near Thai Border to Mon National Liberation Army

By Lawi Weng 3 December 2019

The Myanmar Army has withdrawn its troops from a Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA) base in the Three Pagodas Pass on the border between Karen State and Thailand, but continues to occupy one of the group’s outposts in the area, according to local sources.

“Their troops left our base last night,” Colonel Nai M-Seik Chan of the MNLA told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

However, the Myanmar army (or Tatmadaw) continued to hold the outpost, he added.

The Myanmar army seized the base from the MNLA in Palanjapan Village on Nov. 27 after fighting broke out between the MNLA and a joint force of Tatmadaw and Karen Border Guard Force troops.

Regarding the remaining outpost, Col. Nai M-Seik Chan said his group will hold a meeting with Myanmar army officers in the Three Pagodas Pass area today to discuss the issue.

“They told us they will also leave our outpost after today’s meeting,” he said, adding that MNLA troops would reoccupy both the base and the outpost once the Tatmadaw troops leave.

At a meeting with representatives of the Tatmadaw’s Southeast Regional Command in Mawlamyine on Monday, MNLA leaders were only allowed to meet with low-ranking army officers, according to Mon sources.

The Mon leaders attempted to negotiate the return of their base at the meeting, but it was only after other MNLA leaders based in the Three Pagodas Pass met with Myanmar army officers inside the base in Palanjapan on Monday evening that the return of the base was agreed. The Myanmar army withdrew from the base after the meeting, according to the MNLA.

Over 700 ethnic Mon fled to Thailand when fighting broke out in the village on Nov. 27 and have continued to shelter on the Thai side of the border since then.

Mon Buddhist monks have agreed to escort all of the more than 700 internally displaced persons (IDPs) home from Thailand once the Myanmar army has left the MNLA base and outpost, according to Mon sources.

The base in Palanjapan Village is one of the most important to the MNLA as it is near the Thai border, and the area is strategic in terms of income opportunities and troop movements.

The MNLA is the armed wing of the New Mon State Party. It signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Tatmadaw and Myanmar government in 2018. Leaders of the MNLA accuse the Myanmar army of violating the NCA agreement by seizing the two facilities.

Nai Win Hla, a member of the NMSP’s Central Executive Committee, told The Voice Journal that the Myanmar army agreed under the NCA to inform the MNLA before traveling into an MNLA-controlled area. According to the MNLA, the Palanjapan Village area is one of the areas under its control.

Nai Win Hla said the Myanmar army had violated that agreement. “They asked permission to go to check the border. We decided to grant permission at the top level, but the Tatmadaw did not wait to receive our permission, and traveled into our control area,” he said.

The MNLA has said it is prepared to pull out of the NCA if the Myanmar army does not return both the base and the outpost.

The MNLA leadership has been under pressure from many ethnic Mon, including Buddhist monks and rank-and-file soldiers, to attempt to retake the base and outpost militarily, as negotiations are perceived to have been ineffective.

Myanmar military spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that because the NMSP was a signatory to the NCA, the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the NMSP could be handled by the JMC-S (State-Level Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee).

“The conflict between the Tatmadaw and NMSP is not impossible to solve. The JMC-S can solve this problem, as it meets often,” he said.