North­ern Shan State fight­ing es­ca­lates with air strikes

As the Tat­madaw coun­tered the re­cent of­fen­sives with an aerial cam­paign against the four al­lied eth­nic armed groups yes­ter­day, the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army called the clashes an ‘in­evitable’ but con­trolled at­tack.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - THU THU AUNG thuthuaung@mm­

THE Tat­madaw called in air strikes yes­ter­day as fight­ing be­tween govern­ment troops and four eth­nic armed groups con­tin­ued at sev­eral lo­ca­tions across four town­ships in north­ern Shan and Kachin states, ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son for the Ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army, a mem­ber of the eth­nic al­liance.

Colonel Mong Aik Kyaw of the TNLA said clashes were re­ported in Namkham, Muse and Kutkai town­ships in north­ern Shan State, as well as Bhamaw/Bhamo town­ship in Kachin State. He said air strikes were launched in at least two lo­ca­tions, though he did not know specif­i­cally where.

“The fight­ing will not stop,” said Col Mong Aik Kyaw. “The Tat­madaw is full of strength. There is al­ways fight­ing in re­mote ar­eas of the Ta’ang, Kachin and Shan [peo­ples]. Now we have taken the fight to the towns. The long-run­ning war has made our peo­ple’s ed­u­ca­tion and eco­nomic sit­u­a­tions worse, so we de­cided to change the front.”

A re­sponse to the Novem­ber 20 of­fen­sive by the four groups and its af­ter­math from the Union-level govern­ment came yes­ter­day in the form of a state­ment from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her ca­pac­ity as chair of the Na­tional Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Peace Cen­tre.

“At a time when peo­ple of Myan­mar are in process of striv­ing for na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and peace that had re­mained elu­sive to them, it is ex­tremely dis­ap­point­ing and sad­den­ing that these in­ci­dents are in­sti­gated,” read her state­ment.

It con­demned “tak­ing up arms to solve po­lit­i­cal is­sues” and urged all eth­nic armed groups to join the 21stcen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence – Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s re­brand­ing of the for­mal peace process ini­ti­ated un­der her pre­de­ces­sor govern­ment – by sign­ing the na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment (NCA).

In a state­ment yes­ter­day, the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army elab­o­rated on why it and the three other eth­nic armed groups had staged their Novem­ber 20 at­tacks on sev­eral po­lice and mil­i­tary out­posts in Shan State’s Muse and Kutkai town­ships.

“The North­ern Al­liance-Burma op­er­a­tion’s launch was in­evitable,” the state­ment read. “The Tat­madaw has used its tremen­dous strength to pres­sure eth­nic armed groups. The op­er­a­tion was in re­sponse to the pres­sure of the Tat­madaw. It was a con­trolled/lim­ited of­fen­sive and was not in­tended to de­stroy na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

A joint state­ment ear­lier this week had re­ferred to the four groups – the KIA, the TNLA, the Myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army and the Arakan Army – as the “al­liance of the North­ern Broth­er­hood”.

The KIA state­ment said the al­liance’s troops would be care­ful to avoid civil­ian ca­su­al­ties in the con­flict zone.

For its part, the Tat­madaw has vowed to “fight back” in the wake of the Novem­ber 20 of­fen­sive.

But oth­ers, in­clud­ing the Shan Youth Net­work, the Shan State Peace Task Force and other lo­cals CSOs have de­manded an end to the fight­ing, urg­ing all war­ring par­ties to come to the negotiating table for a po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue.

Re­ac­tion to the of­fen­sive and its af­ter­math has been mixed.

Ko Kyaw Min Htike, who serves as chair of the Dawei Youth Group, said of the at­tacks in north­ern Shan State, “Ac­cord­ing to news re­ports, we have seen Tat­madaw of­fen­sives in the area within these re­cent months us­ing air strikes and heavy weapons even as the peace process is on­go­ing. The eth­nic groups planned re­tal­ia­tory at­tacks on towns. Us­ing [mil­i­tary] might and pres­sur­ing [eth­nic armed groups] to sign the NCA wasn’t the right way to go about it.”

“That isn’t the way to get real peace. Mu­tual hon­esty, un­der­stand­ing and a gen­uine de­sire for peace is needed. We hope the govern­ment forms a peace di­a­logue that can lead to real na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion through mag­na­nim­ity,” he added.

Yan­gon School of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence chair U Myat Thu said the in­sta­bil­ity in Shan State and more broadly was a struc­tural dilemma.

“The prob­lem is that the power of the govern­ment and the Tat­madaw is sep­a­rate. The govern­ment can­not or­der the Tat­madaw,” he said.

U Myat Thu pointed to more than five years of war in Kachin State – which has dis­placed more than 100,000 peo­ple – as mo­ti­vat­ing the re­cent of­fen­sive for the KIA.

“The sit­u­a­tion in town is calm and un­der con­trol, I think,” said U Zaw Min, head of the Muse district ad­min­is­tra­tion. “We are try­ing to sup­port the IDPs [in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons].”

None of the four mem­bers of the North­ern Al­liance is an NCA sig­na­tory, and the TNLA, the MNDAA and the Arakan Army were ef­fec­tively shut out of the peace process by the pre­vi­ous govern­ment, with their sta­tus in terms of fu­ture par­tic­i­pa­tion un­re­solved.

Govern­ment peace ne­go­tia­tor U Hla Maung Shwe said, “The MPC [Myan­mar Peace Com­mis­sion] still has not de­cided what it’s go­ing to do about the Muse at­tack ahead of the meet­ing. The MPC will make an an­nounce­ment af­ter that meet­ing is held.”

A date for the meet­ing has not yet been set.

Over the past four days, 2600 peo­ple have been dis­placed and are shel­ter­ing at monas­ter­ies in the town of Muse, while over 3000 peo­ple have fled across the bor­der into China. The fight­ing has killed at least 10 peo­ple and in­jured more than 30.

“War is not the an­swer,” said Daw May Sabe Phyu, a Kachin peace ac­tivist and women’s leader. “I would like to de­mand a peace di­a­logue among all par­ties.”

Photo: AFP

Armed mili­tia mem­bers be­long­ing to a Bor­der Guard Force pa­trol Muse town in north­ern Shan State on Novem­ber 22.

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