Major offensive launched near Muse township
At least eight people were killed yesterday when four ethnic armed groups staged a coordinated assault on police and military outposts near Muse in northern Shan State.
A COMBINED force of ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State yesterday launched an offensive against police and military outposts near the border town of Muse early yesterday morning, with at least eight people killed in the assault.
“Today, we began an offensive operation because the Tatmadaw has continuously carried out offensives in remote ethnic areas of Kachin [State], the Kokang and Ta’ang [areas], and Rakhine and Shan [states],” said Colonel Mong Aik Kyaw, a spokesperson for the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.
The offensive took place at the 105mile trade zone in Kutkai township, involving soldiers from the TNLA, the Kachin Independence Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army.
In a statement, the State Counsellor’s Office announced that in addition to police and military installations, the Thein Ni-Namtu, Nant Pon and Swon Lon bridges came under attack.
The statement said a total of 10 locations were targeted by hundreds of troops. Three civilians and five members of government security forces were killed, according to the State Counsellor’s Office, with 18 civilians and 11 members of the security forces injured.
“They are still in hospital for treatment. We are taking full security [measures] in town. The town is under control,” said a police officer from Muse Myoma Police Station.
Ministry of Defence spokesperson Major General Aung Ye Win said, “Military and police security forces fought back and are trying to protect the civilians.”
A statement from the four ethnic armed groups involved in the assault asked civilians to avoid travel in the area in order to minimise the risk of getting caught up in the conflict.
The statement said yesterday’s offensive was “unavoidable” given the Tatmadaw’s repeated aggression in ethnic areas over recent months.
Sai Noon Lao, secretary of the Shan Youth Organisation of Muse, said hundreds of civilians had been displaced by yesterday’s hostilities.
“Now, 900 IDPs [internally displaced persons] are in three monasteries in Muse township. The Kachin Baptist Church, local CSOs and the township administration are supporting and collecting the data of the IDPs,” he said, adding that others were staying on the side of the road linking 105-mile trade zone with Muse town.
Hprawmai I Z Awng, deputy director of the Humanity Institute based in Kutkai, said the situation in Kutkai town was calm and “unusually quiet” but there were fears that hostilities could again flare.
“Some Muse locals already went to the China side [of the border] owing to the unstable situation of the town. We can hear the firing of heavy weapons from town,” said Sai Myat Aung, a photographer in Muse.
Mong Aik Kyaw reiterated the ethnic armed groups’ claim that yesterday’s attacks were a necessary escalation of a conflict in northern Shan and Kachin states that has simmered for months.
“If we continued just defending against the military’s continuous offensives in our Ta’ang areas, all of us must suffer and feel aggrieved. Almost 10,000 Tatmadaw troops have come to our area and launched offensives [during October and November]. We, all of us, decided to operate on the offensive.”
The attack marks a major blow to the civilian National League for Democracy government’s peace overtures to the nation’s ethnic armed groups, more than seven months into its term in office.
“It’s bad news. It’s a step backward for the peace process,” said Ko Ye Myo Hein, a political researcher with the Ta Kaung Institute.
None of the groups involved in the attack has a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government, nor were any of the four signatories to last year’s nationwide ceasefire agreement. The TNLA, the MNDAA and the Arakan Army have been excluded from the formal peace process, while the KIA has been engaged in a protracted conflict with the Tatmadaw that began in 2011.
Muse is a trade hub in northern Shan State, connected by bridge to Ruili in China’s Yunnan province, and with links also to Bhamaw/Bhamo township in Kachin State.
In addition to the casualties, a restaurant owner at the Muse 105-mile outpost, Ko Thet Naung, said one truck had been set ablaze and two others destroyed, and a traffic patrol outpost was bombed.