Rival Shan Armed Groups Clash in Eastern Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 26 September 2022

Rival ethnic Shan armed groups the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) and Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) clashed recently in Kyethi Township in central Shan State, as long-running territorial disputes continue to cause military tensions between the two groups, according to the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the SSA-N’s political wing.

The SSA-N is also fighting the Myanmar military in Momeik Township in northern Shan State. Fighting broke out on September 17 when around 80 junta troops advanced to Mt. Hui Kham in the east of Momeik. Seven junta soldiers were killed and at least five others were injured in two days of fighting, according to the SSPP.

The clashes came after the SSPP refused a junta order to withdraw its fighters from Momeik, said the SSPP.

Junta forces and SSA-N fighters are still deployed in the township and tensions remain high, added the SSPP in a statement. The Irrawaddy was unable to contact an SSPP spokesperson for a comment.

On September 21, SSA-N troops clashed with the SSA-S, the armed wing of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), near a village in the south of Kyethi Township. There were no casualties in the fighting, said the SSPP, whose headquarters are located at Wan Hai in Kyethi Township.

Shan State Army-North women fighters during a drill. SSA-N

RCSS Secretary-2 Major Kham San denied that the SSA-S had fought with SSA-N fighters, saying it was just an excuse for the SSA-N to invade RCSS territory.

“They [SSA-N] have entered our territory. They faked a clash as an excuse to move their troops into our areas. They have now entered Lai-Hka [in southern Shan State],” he said.

In February 2022, the SSA-N drove SSA-S fighters out of northern Shan State, with the assistance of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Myanmar’s most powerful ethnic armed organization.

Since then, the RCSS has dispatched small groups of fighters to re-enter northern Shan State, resulting in the clash in Kyethi, said one ethnic affairs analyst.

A political observer who wished to remain anonymous said that the RCSS is attempting to retake its bases in northern Shan State.

“I think the RCSS has made this move after reaching an understanding with the military regime. The RCSS chairman Yawd Serk met coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and they reportedly discussed military issues. We don’t know exactly what the RCSS chairman demanded during the meeting,” said the observer.

He added: “But the regime might be happy to see armed conflict between the SSPP and the RCSS. The regime might support the RCSS’s attempts to move back there [northern Shan State] instead of taking matters into its own hands. The SSPP is backed by the UWSA, and if the RCSS goes too far the UWSA will not just stand by and do nothing.”

Shan State Army-North women fighters during a drill. SSA-N

Based in Loi Tai Leng on the Myanmar-Thailand border in southern Shan State, the RCSS is a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which the SSPP opted out of signing.

While the RCSS is a member of the Peace Process Steering Committee, a body formed by NCA signatories to conduct talks with the government, the SSPP is one of the seven members of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee based in north and northeast Myanmar.

Both SSPP and RCSS leaders joined the recent peace talks at the invitation of junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.