Renewed Fighting Tempers Hopes for Peace as Negotiators Meet

By Nang Seng Nom 9 September 2015

RANGOON — Clashes continued this week between government troops and ethnic armed groups in the run-up to a high-level meeting in Naypyidaw involving President Thein Sein, military representatives and several ethnic rebel leaders.

Thein Sein is meeting with the armed group leaders on Wednesday in the capital to discuss the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement with most of the country’s armed groups, but even as negotiators on both sides express optimism that a long-sought peace deal is in the offing, renewed clashes have reportedly occurred on at least four different fronts.

Government troops exchanged fire with soldiers from the Shan State Army-South (SSA-A) in Shan State’s Loilem Township on Monday, according to Sai Oo, in-charge of the SSA-S liaison office based in Taunggyi. He said the fighting would present an obstacle to the signing of the nationwide ceasefire accord as negotiators enter what they hope will be the final stage of talks on the peace deal.

“We’ve agreed to deploy in designated territories,” Sai Oo said, blaming the Burma Army for the fresh clash. “We don’t want to fight because it can hamper the signing of the NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement].”

Likewise, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) have both claimed that their troops clashed with government soldiers on Tuesday as the Union Peacemaking Working Committee held informal pre-Wednesday talks with ethnic leaders in Naypyidaw.

TNLA troops and Division 77 of the military clashed twice—once Kyaukme and later in Kutkai—in northern Shan State on Tuesday, Capt. Mai Ai Kyaw, a TNLA information officer, told The Irrawaddy.

“We fought in Kyaukme from 10:00 to 10:30 am and at Kutkai from 1 to 2 pm today,” he said on Tuesday, echoing Sai Oo’s concerns about the clashes’ impact on ongoing peace talks.

Myawaddy, a military mouthpiece, said Tuesday evening that the military was clearing the area because a group of 15 TNLA soldiers had abducted a police officer near Panwa village near Mong Ton Township in Shan State.

Bhamo-based Tu Jar from Kachin Baptist Council (KBC) said the KIA and government troops exchanged hostilities in Kachin State’s Shwegu Township on Tuesday, though details about the clash were hazy.

Maj. Tan Sai, with a deployment of Hpakant Township-based KIA troops, told the Irrawaddy that the military was bringing reinforcements into the area.

“It [fighting] is a typical problem we face whenever peace talks are held. And the military always deploys more troops [when peace talks are held],” Tan Sai said.

The government has only invited 15 ethnic armed groups to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement, offering a variety of reasons for excluding the TNLA, Kokang rebels of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army, as well as a handful of ethnic non-armed groups.

Ethnic negotiators have pushed for the inclusion of all ethnic armed groups in the accord, with the divergence on this issue proving to be the key stumbling block to a final deal.

Representatives for the KIA are in Naypyidaw today for the nationwide ceasefire talks, while Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, Burma’s commander-in-chief and a key stakeholder in the peace negotiations, is absent, away on a goodwill visit to Israel.