An officer of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) has complained that whenever the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) risks losing control of one of their bases in Namtu or Lashio townships of northern Shan State, troops from the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, step in to help them.
Renewed fighting has been ongoing in the Namtu and Lashio areas for almost three weeks, according to the TNLA’s Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw. In joint operations, the TNLA and the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) have been carrying out attacks on RCSS bases with the intention of forcing them to leave the area.
“The RCSS nearly lost all bases in Namtu and Lashio. They cannot stay in those areas anymore if they lose their base nearby in Mongmu Village. But then the Myanmar Army came in to help. They use air strikes and 105 millimeter shells,” said Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw.
There has been strong fighting for two consecutive days in Mongmu Village between the Myanmar military and the joint forces of the TNLA and the SSPP. The Myanmar military uses three battalions on the ground to attack the joint force.
“For our side, we have a strong armed force as the SSPP have joined us. When we have fighting [with] the Burmese (Myanmar military), it is very big fighting. Therefore, they have to use air strikes to fight back at us,” said Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw.
This is not first time the TNLA and the SSPP launched a joint military offensive in order to fight the RCSS, according to the TNLA. On four occasions, in similar situations when they had almost successfully forced the RCSS to retreat from their area, the Myanmar military has stepped into the area.
“They do not want the RCSS to leave from those areas. They took [control of] the areas from us, then gave it to the RCSS. They tried to make more confusion in these areas,” said Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw.
Lt-Col Sai Oo, a spokesperson for the RCSS denied the TNLA’s accusations.
Some local aid workers who went to help internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mongmu Village found RCSS troops were staying inside a Buddhist monastery in the village, while the Myanmar military troops stayed outside the monastery.
“[It is] very strange that they stayed nearby each other. This was first time I have seen them,” said a local aid worker who requested anonymity.
Fighting first broke out between the RCSS and the joint forces of the TNLA and the SSPP on March 22 and an elderly man from a nearby village was killed amid the clashes. Over one hundred people fled Mongmu and stayed at a Buddhist monastery in another village called Mong San.
About 2,000 locals are regularly forced to leave their villages in Hsipaw and Namtu as a result of rival ethnic armed groups clashing in their area.
The TNLA and the SSPP accused the RCSS of occupying areas they used to control in Namtu, Hsipaw, Lashio and Kyaukme townships after the RCSS signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in 2015. The RCSS are traditionally based in southern Shan State, but they have been acquiring more bases in northern Shan recently.
On March 27, fighting broke out between the Myanmar military and joint forces of the TNLA and the SSPP in Mongmu Village and two houses were burned down when artillery shell fell on them. It is unknown, however, which group was responsible for the shelling which caused the damage.