Wa and Mongla re­ported to clash as ten­sions in Shan con­tinue to es­ca­late

The Myanmar Times - - News - LUN MIN MANG lun­min­mang@mm­times.com

PIT­TING al­lies against each other, two of Myan­mar’s strong­est eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tions have re­port­edly en­gaged in mil­i­tary hos­til­i­ties. The ag­gres­sion has shocked do­mes­tic peace ob­servers and po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts who per­ceive the clashes as ex­pos­ing a long-ex­tant rift be­tween the two pro-China fac­tions, each op­er­at­ing out of their own en­claves in Shan State.

On Septem­ber 28, a con­voy of as many as 600 Wa sol­diers crossed over the bor­der into ter­ri­tory con­trolled by its for­mer ally, the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army (NDAA), ac­cord­ing to Shan Her­ald Agency for News (SHAN).

The re­port al­leged that the Wa troops had cap­tured two moun­tain out­posts – Loi Ki­uh­sai and Loi Hsarm Hsoom – as well as a strate­gic bor­der check­point in the Mongla ter­ri­tory, and then ar­rested more than 150 guards. The de­tained sol­diers were later re­leased.

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has an es­ti­mated strength of nearly 20,000 fight­ers, whereas the Mongla’s NDAA has an es­ti­mated strength of 3000 fight­ers, ac­cord­ing to the Myan­mar Peace Mon­i­tor.

“The Mongla’s de­mand for au­ton­omy for the Arkhar eth­nic peo­ple, Mongla leader Sai Lin’s fre­quent vis­its to Nay Pyi Taw and most re­cently is­sues at the 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence, were prob­a­bly the un­der­ly­ing causes of the out­break of clashes,” U Khun Sai, a mem­ber of the Pyi­daungsu In­sti­tute and an ad­viser to the Restora­tion Coun­cil of Shan State, told the Shan Her­ald Agency for News.

At the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence last month – the new gov­ern­ment’s first ma­jor foray into the peace process – the UWSA sent a low-level del­e­ga­tion to at­tend af­ter much lob­by­ing from gov­ern­ment ne­go­tia­tors. By con­trast, NDAA’s leader, Sai Lin, at­tended.

Sources close to the two eth­nic armed groups said the NDAA leader re­jected the UWSA’s sug­ges­tion to like­wise send a low-rank­ing del­e­ga­tion to the con­fer­ence as a way to tread into the ne­go­ti­a­tions slowly.

On the sec­ond day of the con­fer­ence, the Wa del­e­gates pulled out and left the cap­i­tal af­ter a per­ceived sleight caused by regis­tra­tion con­fu­sion. The UWSA del­e­ga­tion claimed the gov­ern­ment had un­fairly side­lined them, and did not re­spond to at­tempts to en­treat them to re­turn.

U Than Soe Naing, a po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor, said the walk­out was pre­cip­i­tated by ear­lier short­com­ings.

“The Wa lead­ers asked State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to in­clude all armed eth­nic groups at the con­fer­ence. How­ever, the Tat­madaw did not agree … and hence the UWSA sent a low-level del­e­ga­tion and was not so com­mit­ted to par­tic­i­pat­ing in the con­fer­ence,” he said.

Nei­ther of the eth­nic armed groups signed last year’s na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment.

The UWSA pub­licly said last year, af­ter be­ing in­vited to the sign­ing by then-pres­i­dent U Thein Sein, that since it has a decades-long bi­lat­eral cease­fire agree­ment, it does not need the NCA. In­stead, the UWSA lob­bied the gov­ern­ment to up­grade its au­ton­o­mous zone into an eth­nic state.

While the UWSA has kept its dis­tance from Nay Pyi Taw and the gov­ern­ment-ini­ti­ated peace process, the NDAA has walked a more neu­tral line and con­tin­ues to keep diplo­matic chan­nels with Nay Pyi Taw open.

U Than Soe Naing sug­gested re­cent Tat­madaw ag­gres­sion against other eth­nic armed groups in Shan State was aimed at in­tim­i­dat­ing the larger groups and es­pe­cially the UWSA “be­cause it ex­erts an in­flu­ence over the three al­lies that make up the north­ern al­liance”.

The “north­ern al­liance” – the Myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army, the Arakan Army and the Ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army – has built a close re­la­tion­ship with the UWSA over the last year. The Tat­madaw has frozen the north­ern al­liance out of the peace process.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts have said that as the peace process ad­vances, mil­i­tary pres­sure is be­ing ap­plied so the armed groups buckle and sign the NCA.

But the Mongla claimed the re­cent “in­va­sion” had been mis­un­der­stood, and was in­stead a mat­ter of Wa troops sim­ply car­ry­ing out mil­i­tary ex­er­cises.

“Dur­ing the mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, some UWSA troops mis­un­der­stood the in­struc­tions and that led to neg­a­tive con­se­quences. The lead­ers from Spe­cial Re­gion 4 [Mongla ter­ri­tory] met with the Wa lead­ers to dis­cuss the mat­ter on the morn­ing of Oc­to­ber 1. Cor­rec­tions have been ar­ranged,” the Mongla said in a statement, adding that the Mongla ter­ri­tory had re­turned to “nor­mal” cir­cum­stances.

SHAN also re­ported that the deputy com­man­der-in-chief of the UWSA, Zhao Zhong­dang, is headed to the Mongla re­gion for talks with NDAA lead­ers.

No spokesper­sons for ei­ther eth­nic armed group could be reached for com­ment yes­ter­day.

“Un­less the three groups [of the north­ern al­liance] are brought into the fold of the peace process, north­ern Shan State is not go­ing be in a sta­ble sit­u­a­tion,” said U Than Soe Naing.

Photo: Than Naing Soe

Del­e­gates rep­re­sent­ing the United Wa State Army at­tend the 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence on Au­gust 31.

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