Rival Armed Groups Fight Over Territorial Dispute in Myanmar’s Shan State

By The Irrawaddy 1 July 2021

Two rival ethnic Shan armed groups, the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), have been fighting over a territorial dispute for a month in mountains in Kyethi Township, southern Shan State.

Both were formed to seek greater autonomy in Shan State with the RCSS based in the south and the SSPP in the north of the sprawling state.

RCSS information officer Major Kham San told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday: “The two sides are still fighting. Clashes broke out along the Lwel Hun mountain range between Kyethi and Mongnaung on June 1 and have continued for a month. The RCSS has occupied the mountains for a long time and the SSPP attacked us. The fighting is fierce.”

Civilians displaced by fighting in Kyethi in June. / Tai Youth

The Lwel Hun mountains on the Kyethi-Mongnaung road are about 16km from the SSPP headquarters in Wanhai, Mong Hsu Township. The RCSS built a camp in the mountains.

“They fired artillery from the village. We are just defending ourselves. The fighting is intense. When it rains, they halt the attacks and bring reinforcements. Then they attack elsewhere. They are using thousands of troops,” said Maj Kham San.

Although the RCSS claimed its troops have long been based in Lwel Hun, the SSPP said the mountains are in its territory and attacking to retake their land.

SSPP information officer Major Sai Phone Han said: “From Lwel Hun they can shoot at Wanhai. Lwel Hun is over 200 miles from the [RCSS] headquarters in Loi Tai Leng but it is around 10 miles from our headquarters. It is close. We are not invading them. They can attack us anytime. We have to consider our security.”

The RCSS occupied Lwel Hun while Myanmar’s military and the SSPP were battling in Mong Hsu and Kyethi townships in 2017 and has been attempting to exert control over mountain villages, forcing the SSPP to push them back, said the major.

The RCSS signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government in 2015.

Shan political organizations and influential monks have made several unsuccessful attempts to settle territorial disputes between the two revolutionary groups.

“They are not just invading us but are attempting to wipe us out. We have strong evidence,” said Maj Sai Phone Han. The RCSS and SSPP said they are the only two groups fighting in Lwel Hun but residents said the United Wa State Army (UWSA) is fighting alongside the SSPP.

Hundreds of UWSA troops have arrived in Lwel Hun, according to villagers. The UWSA is based on the west of the Salween River and the SSPP on the east. The two are publicly allies with strong ties.

The Irrawaddy was unable to reach the UWSA for a comment.

More than 1,000 residents have been forced from their homes in the Lwel Hun mountains. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on June 24 that around 1,660 civilians had recently been displaced in Kyethi and Mongkaing townships by the clashes.

You may also like these stories:

Hundreds of Myanmar Migrant Workers in Thailand Infected in Mass COVID-19 Outbreak

Some Sobering Truths About ASEAN and Myanmar

Five Months After Coup, What Has Myanmar Junta Chief Accomplished?