A clash between the Burma Army and the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) on New Year’s Eve marked the first outbreak of conflict between government forces and an ethnic armed group signatory to the country’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
According to an RCSS/SSA-S spokesperson, fighting occurred at about 1 p.m. on December 31 in Mong Peng Township in eastern Shan State’s Kengtung District. The clash allegedly lasted one hour and involved the Burma Army Battalion No. 278 and RCSS/SSA-S troops.
“They [the Burma Army] attacked us. We lost one soldier and another one was injured,” said Col. Sai La of the RCSS/SSA-S. “But no casualties from Burma’s side have been reported.”
A source close to the Burma Army in Kengtung, who spoke to SHAN on the condition of anonymity, alleged that Batallion No. 278 “got the command” to attack when RCSS/SSA-S troops entered territory claimed by government forces.
Sai La responded by saying that the RCSS/SSA-S has been active in the disputed area in Mong Peng Township since the days of the Mong Tai Army (MTA), referring to the Shan State force led by Khun Sa who later surrendered to the Burmese military government in 1996.
He also pointed out that the group’s longtime presence in the area could be vouched for by the region’s locals.
“We do not understand why they attacked us,” he said, of the Burma Army.
Sai Khuensai, an advisor to the RCSS/SSA-S and the managing director of the Pyidaungsu Institute, told SHAN that the Burma Army’s actions in Mong Peng might dissuade non-signatory ethnic armed groups from signing the NCA and taking an active role in the peace process.
The RCSS/SSA-S was one of the country’s eight ethnic armed groups—of more than 20—to sign a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with representatives of Burma’s government on October 15 of last year. The next step in the country’s peace process is a national political dialogue is scheduled to begin on January 12.
In September, SHAN reported that U Hla Maung Shwe, a senior advisor at the Myanmar Peace Center, said that the NCA might only “reduce” fighting. In the same article, Sai La, of the RCSS/SSA-S, worried that clashes could continue as long as the territories of government and ethnic armed groups are not clearly defined.
By SAI AW / Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)