The Irrawaddy

Mon and Karen Ethnic Armed Groups Clash

YANGON — The Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), the armed wing of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), which recently signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the government, clashed with NCA signatory the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA) on Sunday in Tanintharyi Region’s Yebyu Township.

Nai Aung Min, a central executive committee member of the NMSP, said clashes broke out when MNLA troops asked KNLA troops about their abduction of locals. He added that an MNLA member was injured in the clash.

“They detained crop growers. We went to see what happened and there was an encounter. One of our troops was injured,” he told The Irrawaddy, adding that the abductees escaped after the two sides clashed.

The NMSP signed the NCA with the National League for Democracy-led government on Feb. 13 and the KNU signed with U Thein Sein’s government in 2015.

According to Nai Aung Min, the MNLA has clashed with the KNLA twice in the former group’s controlled area after signing the NCA. The two sides clashed in Mon State’s Ye Township on Feb. 24 after KNLA troops allegedly came and logged trees in forest reserves managed by the NMSP.

Pado Saw Tardo Hmu, the general secretary of the KNU, said he did not have ground reports regarding Sunday’s incident, but that a recent clash on Feb. 24 was only an engagement between ground troops.

“I don’t know what happened on the ground. I have no comment at this time,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The NMSP has banned logging in its controlled areas to prevent deforestation. KNLA troops allegedly entered the area with trucks, elephants and more than 40 workers in February for logging and NMSP troops arrested them.

The NMSP then released them after a week in consideration of the relations between the two sides. But then again, KNLA troops allegedly entered the area on Feb. 24 to log trees, resulting in clashes. The NMSP seized two firearms from KNLA troops in the clash.

On Feb. 27, Mon State security and border affairs minister Col Win Naing Oo and representatives of the two sides met in Ye Township to discuss the conflict.

Among the proposals made at the discussion were returning the two firearms, the suspension of logging, and a de-escalation of tensions between the two sides. The two sides clashed again on Sunday, as an agreement had not yet been reached regarding the proposals.

There is no clear demarcation of territory between the KNU and NMSP, and renewed clashes may occur until a clear line of demarcation is established, according to ethnic affairs analysts.

Representatives of the two sides met on Monday to de-escalate the situation.

“There are many areas where both the KNU and the NMSP operate. Therefore, we are concerned that this may give rise to problems,” said Nai Aung Min.

The KNLA and MNLA clashed several times in 1989 to control Three Pagodas Pass at the Myanmar-Thai border. Since then, there were rarely clashes until November 2016.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.