Fight­ing oc­curs be­tween mil­i­tary and in­sur­gents in Shan state

New Straits Times - - World -

AT least 160 peo­ple have died in three months of clashes be­tween the mil­i­tary and eth­nic armed groups in Myan­mar’s Shan state, a se­nior army of­fi­cial said on Tues­day, amid ef­forts to re­vive flag­ging peace talks.

More than 20,000 peo­ple have been dis­placed since fight­ing be­tween the army and sev­eral armed eth­nic groups erupted near the bor­der with China in late Novem­ber.

The un­rest has rip­pled across the north­ern state of Shan and into neigh­bour­ing Kachin, ham­per­ing a push by Aung San Suu Kyi’s gov­ern­ment to end the coun­try’s decades-long bor­der­land con­flicts.

Mil­i­tary of­fen­sives that had been rum­bling since mid­dle of last year in­ten­si­fied af­ter sev­eral armed groups, to­gether known as the North­ern Al­liance, launched a ma­jor at­tack in north­ern Shan.

The army re­sponded with heavy ar­tillery and airstrikes.

Ex­perts say the fight­ing in the fron­tier ar­eas is at its most in­tense since the 1980s.

That has prompted the United Na­tions to warn of a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis build­ing in con­flict ar­eas, par­tic­u­larly in Kachin, where some 100,000 peo­ple have been dis­placed since 2011.

Giv­ing the army’s first com­pre­hen­sive toll from the clashes, the chief of the gen­eral staff said 74 sol­diers, 15 po­lice­men, 13 gov­ern­ment mili­tia fight­ers and 13 civil­ians had been killed.

“We have 45 dead bod­ies of en­e­mies and ar­rested four,” Gen­eral Mya Tun Oo said here, spec­u­lat­ing hun­dreds more rebels may have died in the vi­o­lence.

The toll comes as Myan­mar’s gov­ern­ment prepares for a sec­ond round of peace talks, cur­rently slated for this month.

Suu Kyi wants to broaden a cease­fire signed with some of Myan­mar’s myr­iad eth­nic in­sur­gent groups in 2015 and known as the NCA.

The most re­cent ne­go­ti­a­tions were de­layed af­ter the pow­er­ful China-backed United Wa State Army (UWSA) mili­tia held its own sum­mit with non-sig­na­to­ries to the deal.

Af­ter that meet­ing, at­ten­dees signed a state­ment re­ject­ing the NCA.

In­stead, they called for an im­me­di­ate halt to mil­i­tary of­fen­sives in eth­nic ar­eas and for the UN and China to be in­volved in the new talks.

They have also backed the UWSA’s calls for Myan­mar’s ma­jor eth­nic groups to be granted more con­trol over their ter­ri­to­ries and re­sources.

“The NCA is not fair,” a spokesman for the pow­er­ful Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army (KIA) said.

The KIA is among sev­eral groups which are set to hold talks with Suu Kyi this week to try to break the dead­lock.

IHS Jane se­cu­rity an­a­lyst Tony Davis said the re­cent fight­ing has “lent cred­i­bil­ity” to the UWSA, also known as the Wa, in peace ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“The Wa-backed North­ern Al­liance... has ef­fec­tively dis­missed the gov­ern­ment’s NCA-cen­tred peace process, which de­spite Western ad­vice and lav­ish fund­ing has never gained any real trac­tion,” he said.

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