Ma­jor of­fen­sive launched near Muse town­ship

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - THU THU AUNG thuthuaung@mm­times.com

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.

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