The quasi civilian regime of Thein Sein might have wanted it to look like isolated, accidental clashes between the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) and the Tatmadaw or Burma Army, but as the battles raged on employing hundreds of troops, commanded by Lt-General Yar Pyae from Tatmadaw’s Defense Chief of Staff (Army), it becomes clear that it is a systematically planned, executed actions and more than a neglectable, isolated armed engagement.
The Tatmadaw offensive that has started on the 6 October, which is still ongoing, begs the question if it would derail the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) and also disrupt the elections in parts of the Shan state.
As the Tatmadaw reinforced it’s troops and widened the armed confrontation with the SSPP/SSA, the latter has officially written protest letter to the regime’s organ, Union Peace-making Working Committee (UPWC), questioning whether it has abandoned the peace process altogether and has opted for an all-out war instead of peaceful negotiation and political settlement.
On 21 October, SSPP/SSA has written a five point letter to Sai Mauk Kham, Chairman of the Working Committee for the Building of Peace in the Union, with cc to Lt. Gen. Soe Win, Dy. Chairman, Working Committee for the Building of Peace in the Union; U Aung Min, Dy. Chairman, Working Committee for the Building of Peace in the Union; U Thein Zaw, Dy. Chairman, Working Committee for the Building of Peace in the Union; and U Khin Maung Soe, Member, Working Committee for the Building of Peace in the Union.
Working Committee for the Building of Peace in the Union that the SSPP/SSA mentioned is officially known as UPWC.
The letter, with the subject titled “Request for coordination on the Burma Army’s Military Operations in the SSPP/SSA area near the Headquarters” stated that the SSPP/SSA has out of good will, on 15/10/2015 generously withdrew from the strategic place of Ta Sarm Poo Jetty at 17:00 hours, according to the Tatmadaw’s request. An area which it had controlled for over decades.
Furthermore, in an answer to the Tatmadaw’s accusation that the attack with small arms on the Burma Army garrison in Vieng Kao near Mong Nawng were not ordered by the SSPP/SSA headquarters and it was in no way involved in this incident.
In addition, as the Burma Army has been holding military operations around the Ta Sarm Poo jetty and areas very close to Wan Hai, the SSPP/SSA headquarters; and the military operations near the SSPP/SSA headquarters are being directed and personally commanded by Lt. Gen. Yar Pyae of the Defense Chief of Staff (Army); and thus, the SSPP/SSA presumed that it is trying to solve political problems by military might, which instead should be resolved through peaceful negotiations.
The final paragraph that begs the question, if the Tatmadaw is on war path writes: “Therefore, to enable to solve political problems by political and peaceful means we humbly request the immediate halting of the military operations near the SSPP/SSA headquarters. In the case that if you (the Tatmadaw) prefer to use military force to solve political problems you can also inform that you have chosen so.”
The bomb explosion in Mong Hsu, which killed one and wounded three others was condemned by the SSPP/SSA through a statement released on 21 October.
The SSPP released three point statement stated it’s regret of the four wounded civilians – where an elderly woman of 72 years died later, due to the caused injury.
The statement reasoned that a group of mean people might have tried to disrupt the elections, scheduled for 8 November, and condemned the group for its action against innocent civilians.
The Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) has meanwhile asked the Union Election Commission (UEC) to postpone the election in Mong Hsu, Khesi and Tangyan Townships, where fighting are raging, while the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) has urged to keep on with the election schedule as it is, for fear that there won’t be representatives in the parliament for the said areas and also not sure when the by-election could take place, if postponed.
On 19 October, SNDP, in a letter addressed to Chairman of the UEC said as Mong Hsu, Khesi and Tangyang Townships are fleeing to various places, due to the battles, the people are said to have requested that the elections be postponed until peace is restored at an appropriate time.
The letter stressed “Because of this, SNDP according to the agreement of its committee petitioned the UEC to tackle (the problem) as it sees appropriate.”
On 26 October, SNLD Chairman Hkun Htun Oo, on the 27th founding anniversary day of the party, where the party’s candidates were introduced, said: “The other party (SNDP) asked the elections in Khesi, Tangyan and Mong Hsu to be postponed, which it thought will lose, but when we practically looked at it, there is only in Khesi that battles are occurring, not at other places.”
He said that only if all ethnic armed groups could sign the peace treaty, a system of federal union could be established.
SNLD spokesman Sai Leik also explained that if the election is postponed in the said areas, there will be no representatives in the parliament for the people in these places and won’t be able to air their their opinion on peace related discussions. Besides, the postponement of said three areas could tremendously affect the Shan state’s peace process.
Sai Leik stressed that it could create an opportunity for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and its alliance parties – meaning: SNDP – for postponing the elections in areas the military decided not secure, without asking the political parties. The USDP alliance parties could ask to postpone elections in places they are weak and cannot win the elections.
However, the UEC, on 27 October issued an announcement signed by Chairman U Tin Aye, that in Mong Hsu, Khesi, Tangyan and Hopang Townships elections would not be held, due to the impossible situation to conduct free and fair elections.
According to it, the whole Townships of Mong Hsu and Khesi; 8 village tracts in Tangyan Township; 37 village tracts and 5 quarters in Hopang Township will not be able to vote in the elections.
The polling body cited Article 10(f) of the Union Election Commission Law, which grants the UEC the authority to cancel or postpone elections in constituencies where either a natural disaster or regional instability inhibits election officials’ ability to hold of free and fair elections.
Earlier, the UEC said it would cancel voting in villages in conflict-hit ethnic areas of the country owing to security concerns, an additional threat to an inclusive election. The UEC said elections could not be held in more than 400 village areas, mostly in Kachin, Shan and Karen state.
Meanwhile, the US and UN have urged and called on the military to deescalate the tension and exercise restraint regarding the armed conflict with the non-signatory ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and that it should not pressure but look at them as partners essential to achieving a lasting peace.
“We made a point that it’s important the government and military show some restraint in those areas where groups did not sign the ceasefire,” Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, told reporters in Yangon on 20 October.
Echoing the same line of argument, Vijay Nambiar, an adviser on Myanmar to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, told Reuters “There’s a danger that if that escalates, that can be interpreted as putting pressure.”
Recently, the military has heightened the armed engagement in Kachin and northern Shan states, targeting the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Army (MNDAA), and Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
In Kokang area, where it has been relatively quite for months, battles have again erupted recently at least in four places, along the China-Burma border, employing infantry forces and firing heavy artillery, according to the MNDAA spokesman Tun Myat Lin.
He said: “I think they (Tatmadaw) hasn’t change their grand strategy of total annihilation. It seems they are trying to solve political problems with military might, like in the past.”
The Tatmadaw has been conducting offensives on the SSPP/SSA, which is one of the ethnic armed groups that did not sign the deal. Reportedly, 37 times of armed engagements between October 6 and 19, have occurred, according to military-run newspaper Myawady. Seven Shan troopers were said to have been killed, while the SSPP/SSA said that some 30 government soldiers had met their death.
Parallel to these development, United Wa State Army (UWSA) has invited 11 non-signatory EAOs, Karen National Defence Organization (KNDO) and Kayan Newland Party (KNLP) to Pang Kham (also known as Pang Hsang, the Wa capital ) on how to view the elections and how to handle the peace process with the incoming new regime after the elections, on 1 to 3 November.
According to The Irrawaddy, Zhao Xiaofu, a UWSA spokesperson said: “The meeting will focus on the views of ethnic armed groups on the election and how we, ethnic armed groups, should engage with the new government.”
Meanwhile, S.H.A.N. reported that the regime, in an attempt to save face and also to put public pressure on the SSPP/SSA and other non-signatory EAOs, held public support rallies from October 23-24, in Kengtung, Lashio, Loilem, Tachileik and Taunggyi in support of its partial-ceasefire, dubbed NCA.
The largest of the pro-NCA rallies was held at a public recreational facility in Taunggyi, Shan State’s capital. Four thousand people attended the event.
But some attendees at the pro-NCA peace events told S.H.A.N. that they came because they were summoned by their township administration.
“They called us from the village,” said Sai Khun Aung, 24, a local resident. “Only when we got here did we know that it was to support the NCA.”
Looking at the chain of political development, it seems that the regime, in its desperation to whip the non-signatory EAOs into line, according to its desire of signing the treaty, has pushed them further aback by applying military pressure.
It is not clear, if the recent announcement of no election in SSPP/SSA operational and influence areas, where the SNLD has an edge over SNDP and other parties, to undercut the former’s electoral success and lessen its opportunity to gather more representative seats in the parliament, make sense in conducting a free and fair elections. Many already are accusing the USDP-Military regime to be killing two birds with one bullet. That is, pressuring the SSPP/SSA militarily to sign the NCA and at the same time, undercutting the SNLD political power base, which is well known to be backed by the SSPP/SSA.
Furthermore, the escalation of war in non-signatory EAOs’ areas would likely be met with stiff resistance and could even result in a wider armed conflict, if regional power and super power would get involved, one way or the other.
UWSA is seen as China proxy, while the USDP-Military regime is keen to be seeking the US and West backing to free itself from the Chinese clutch.
Other than that, this military adventure of the Tatmadaw could derail the regime’s much touted NCA and even disrupt the election nationwide by widening the scope of no-vote areas, through armed attacks and provocation on a wider scale in ethnic areas.
But whether the Tatmadaw will tighten the military screw more in ethnic areas and disrupt the elections or loosen it to let the elections run its course is a question that only time could answer.