Fighting is spreading over larger areas of northern Shan State as the Tatmadaw and a newly allied ethnic armed group move in reinforcements, according to the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.
Villagers forced to flee the conflict are reported to have scattered across five townships.
The current round of clashes between the Tatmadaw and the TNLA in Namhsan, Mine Ton/Mong Ton and Kyaukme townships began on December 13 and worsened with the military’s deployment of helicopter gunships on December 14 and 15, the TNLA said. Severe fighting first flared over the last four days of November.
“The fighting is continuing. The Tatmadaw appears to have brought in fresh forces,” Captain Mong Aik Kyaw of the TNLA said yesterday. Some of the fighting is taking place in remote areas not far from Shan State’s northern border with China.
He said the Tatmadaw had brought in extra troops, making a total of some 5000 who were in or based close to TNLA-held territory. He said the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) was numbering about 1000 troops after also moving in more forces.
The RCSS, which could not be reached for comment, has previously denied encroaching on TNLA territory in northern Shan State. The Tatmadaw had no comment.
The RCSS was among eight ethnic armed groups to sign the “nationwide” ceasefire agreement with the government and military on October 15. Several major groups refused to sign while the TNLA was among three organisations actively engaged in conflict that were shut out of the pact by the government.
Civil society groups and long-time analysts of the civil war in Shan State accused the Tatmadaw of having a clear strategy to take more territory, regardless of the peace process.
A local politician said ethnic Palaung villagers had been driven from their homes and had scattered across five townships which he listed as Mine Ton, Lashio, Namtu, Muse and Namkham.
“We are providing assistance to ethnic Palaung refugees with the help of a Japanese NGO. We’re hoping for peace talks, but the fighting won’t stop,” said U Tun Kyaw, a spokesperson for the Ta-Arng (Palaung) National Party.
Captain Mong Aik Kyaw of the TNLA said no offer of ceasefire talks had been received.
He also rejected growing fears that the fighting would fuel intercommunal tensions.
“It’s just fighting between armed groups,” he said.
The Ta’ang Student and Youth Union released a statement over the weekend calling for an end to the fighting and the establishment of a democratic federal system, which is also one of the stated objectives of the nationwide ceasefire agreement.
“There are all sorts of rumours about the clashes between the Shan and the Ta’ang. We hope the rumours don’t fuel ethnic divisions,” said U Mong Myo Aung, joint general secretary 2 of the Ta’ang Student and Youth Union.
“Fighting between the RCSS and the TNLA broke out because the RCSS took advantage of the confusion during discussions over areas of control. Whatever the reason is, this is bad for both groups,” said U Mong Myo Aung.