Friday, August 18, 2017

Tensions high in Shan State as Tatmadaw offensive looms

Tensions remain high among the Shan and Palaung armies in northern Shan State, after the Tatmadaw warned it was planning a “clearance operation” against the groups unless they pull back their forces.

Sai Maing, a spokesperson of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS), said the group would not withdraw its troops from northern Shan State as demanded. He said the group was fighting the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) to protect the security of Shan people in the area.

“We will not attack the Tatmadaw but if they launch an offensive against our front lines, we will resist,” he said.

In Kyaukme township, the battlefield of recent clashes between the TNLA and the RCSS, Tatmadaw troops are stationed close to RCSS battalions in Tot Sang village.

Local RCSS commanders are concerned about the prospect of a looming attack.

“We are still not fighting with the Tatmadaw, but we are concerned about the situation. We have not received any command to pull back from the front line,” said Ma Nan Moe, the liaison officer for the RCSS in Kyaukme.

Residents of neighbouring villagers said they had heard fighting nearby, but that they were not sure of the belligerents. U Han, from Nyaung Bin Hla village, said he heard the sound of a shelling attack on the RCSS base on Loi Leah Mountain yesterday morning.

“The fighting happened this morning at about 11am, but I don’t know which groups attacked,” he said.

No more information was provided by the military.

In an effort to stem any further conflict, the Union Peace-making Work Committee, the government’s negotiating team, has been talking with the RCSS in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, in recent days.

Colonel Myat Min Oo of the military’s “correct news” team said he had not been authorised to give any details.

More than 4000 civilians have been displaced by the conflict in Kyaukme township that started earlier this month. More IDPs sought refuge after fighting between the TNLA and the Tatmadaw on February 23 in Pan Nang village in Namhsan township, with 80 people arriving in Kyaukme on February 24. According to the TNLA, the Tatmadaw employed two helicopters supported by artillery against its forces.

U Tin Maung Thein from the Ziwitha Philanthropic Organisation (ZPO) in Kyaukme said a crisis was looming for the IDPs as the fighting continued.

“The warfare will create high tensions in the region because I have seen an increase of Tatmadaw troops on the front lines near Namhsan, Kyaukme and Lashio townships. The Tatmadaw could be fighting both the Shan and the Palaung soon,” he said.

Tar Pan Hla, a liaison officer with the TNLA, said that thousands of Tatmadaw troops had massed close to the Palaung group’s territory in Namhsan and Lashio townships since February 23. This suggested the Tatmadaw may launch an offensive in coming days.

If the RCSS would pull back from the areas that were under TNLA control before the fighting started, the situation would be stable again and talks would no longer be necessary, he said.

“The RCSS could not have invaded our controlled areas without Tatmadaw support, so we have to fight with the RCSS. Then the Tatmadaw claims that the unstable situation is a reason to start an offensive against us,” he said.