Residents Flee as Military Tensions Flare in Eastern Shan State

By Saw Yan Naing 25 October 2016

RANGOON — Several dozen residents in the town of Mongyang, including government workers, have fled south to Kengtung, the administrative capital of eastern Shan State, fearing the outbreak of fighting as tensions flare between the Burma Army and the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

Fears have mounted after the deadline of an ultimatum delivered by the Burma Army to the UWSA—to withdraw its troops who had occupied several bases belonging to a supposed ally, the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), in the autonomous Chinese border enclave of Mongla—passed on Monday without action.

The seizure of the posts in early October was reportedly carried out to shore up the UWSA’s strategic position against a potential Burma Army offensive, and was prompted by growing mistrust of its longtime junior partner, the NDAA—more popularly known as the Mongla Group—after the NDAA displayed a willingness to engage with the Burmese government’s peace process that was out of step with the UWSA’s cautious approach.

According to local sources, government staffers employed at a hospital and in schools in Mongyang town of eastern Shan State have fled south to Kengtung. Other local residents have sought sanctuary across the nearby Chinese border.

However, so far there have been no visible signs of an offensive by the Burma Army, which has a considerable presence across eastern Shan State, with Triangle Command headquartered in Kengtung. Mongyang is located between Mongla and the town of Mongpauk, a UWSA stronghold.

On Friday, the UWSA responded to a letter from the National Reconciliation and Peace Center—the Burmese government body charged with facilitating the peace process—asking them to withdraw their troops and requesting a meeting.

The UWSA said that reports that it had commandeered posts from the NDAA were based on a “misunderstanding” of the facts on the ground; they were merely conducting military exercises in a region belonging to their allies, and any concerns had been cleared up with the NDAA, with whom they preserved “brotherly” relations.

In the letter, the UWSA said they had ordered their troops to de-escalate tensions, and that the organization was committed to restoring peace and maintaining unity in Burma—and would not provoke conflict. They also turned down the request for a meeting.

Both the UWSA and the NDAA developed out of units of the Communist Party of Burma when it imploded in 1989, and signed ceasefires with the Burmese government more than 25 years ago, since which relations with the Burma Army have been peaceful.