PNLO Denies Attacking ASEAN Relief Convoy in Myanmar’s Shan State

By The Irrawaddy 9 May 2023

The Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), an ethnic armed organization based in eastern Myanmar’s Shan State, has denied attacking a convoy carrying regional diplomats and officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as it was attempting to deliver relief supplies in the south of the state over the weekend.

The convoy carrying two diplomats each from the embassies of Singapore and Indonesia, three officials from the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management, and PNLO liaison officers was attacked by an unknown armed group in Hsi Hseng Township on Sunday.

The convoy was traveling to a displacement camp in Hsi Hseng to provide humanitarian aid to displaced families there. Following the fighting, the convoy turned back to Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State. No one was injured in the attack.

“The shooting happened around 9 a.m. An unknown group fired around five to 10 shots at the convoy. The attack I think was intended to discourage diplomats from visiting the displacement camp. The convoy left Taunggyi at 7.30 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Hsi Hseng at 10. They were attacked at a place some 4 miles [6.5 km] from Hsi Hseng,” PNLO patron Khun Okkar told The Irrawaddy.

The ASEAN diplomats canceled their trip after the shooting, and PNLO vice chair Khun Tun Tin met displaced families on behalf of the ASEAN diplomats and handed over relief supplies.

“No one was injured. A back door of the last vehicle in the convoy was hit. The seat was hit. But no one was hit,” said Colonel Khun Okkar.

While the attack took place in an area controlled by junta-affiliated militia the Pa-O National Organization (PNO), allegations have appeared on social media that the PNLO was behind the attack. A news report by Radio Free Asia also quoted an anonymous PNO official as saying the attack was carried out by a PNLO team lead by member Kyaw Htin.

PNLO patron Khun Okkar denied the allegations. “There were PNLO liaison officers in that convoy. And the plan was for relief supplies [for displaced people] to be handed over at the PNLO’s liaison office. The entire trip was arranged by the PNLO under the guidance of the Peace Process Steering Team [PPST]. So, why would the PNLO attack such a thing, which could help boost the organization’s political image and earn political recognition for it? The attack was intended to force the convoy to cancel their trip,” said Khun Okkar.

Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) Secretary-2 Ko Marwi, meanwhile, said the KNDF is not active in Hsi Hseng, adding that he had no knowledge about the attack on the convoy.

Secretary of the parallel National Unity Government (NUG)’s Defense Ministry U Naing Htoo Aung told PV TV: “Junta troops and PNO militias are deployed at the place where the attack happened, and it is not convenient for [resistance forces] to carry out guerrilla attacks there. So, it would be impossible for the People’s Defense Force and other revolutionary organizations to attack the convoy there.”

The attack took place two days before the ASEAN Summit kicked off in Indonesia on Tuesday. The Myanmar crisis is at the top of the summit’s agenda.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo told a press briefing on Monday that he condemned the attack.

The PNLO is a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and is also a member of the PPST, a 10-member group of NCA signatories. Seven PPST members including the PNLO are currently engaged in peace talks with the military regime.