The Myanmar government on Friday mapped out its expectations for an upcoming meeting between its peace negotiators and the Northern Alliance group of ethnic armies in trying to end escalated hostilities in northern Shan state, and briefly warned of the possible negative consequences if the talks should fail.
Tun Tun Oo, vice chairman of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), will lead the team of negotiators meeting with leaders of four Northern Alliance groups — the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Arakan Army (AA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—the eastern Shan state town of Kengtung on Sept. 17, said government spokesman Zaw Htay.
Hostilities intensified after the Northern Alliance, except for the KIA, attacked various locations in war-torn northern Shan state and neighboring Mandalay region in mid-August in retaliation for what they said were offensives by Myanmar soldiers in areas the groups’ control.
They carried out further armed assaults on bridges and border passages to disrupt trade routes in the border region.
The AA meanwhile is also battling Myanmar forces in western Rakhine state in a quest for greater autonomy.
As a trust-building measure, however, both the Northern Alliance and the government army have declared temporary truces to give them time to engage in talks and consider a lasting bilateral cease-fire.
“We are taking these Kengtung peace talks on the 17th very seriously,” Zaw Htay said at a government news conference.
“If the results from this discussion are not good, it will be disconcerting for the prospects of a cease-fire extension,” he said.
The Northern Alliance groups last met with government peace negotiators at the end of August, though Myanmar military representatives did not attend the session.
“We talked to all four Northern Alliance groups during the last peace talks [and] we requested them all not to attack the civilian targets and traffic along the Union highway,” Zaw Htay said, referring to armed assaults on the Mandalay-Lashio-Muse Union Highway, a key artery for overland trade with China.
“We also requested that they declare a cease-fire on their side, if possible,” he said.
The Northern Alliance’s truce is in effect through Oct. 8, while the Myanmar military’s cease-fire will expire on Sept. 21.
Rule of law in Rakhine
Zaw Htay also appealed the Rakhine lawmakers to cooperate with the central government to ensure the rule of law in the war-torn western region where clashes between the AA and government troops have raged since late 2018.
Dozens of civilians have been killed and injured, while tens of thousands of others have been displaced amid the hostilities.
The government spokesman also denounced the recent decapitations of two civilians whose bodies were found along a road leading to a market as an inhumane terrorist act.
“When there are active armed engagements, there will be a deterioration of rule of law, security, and stability in the region,” he said. “This is typical.”
“In managing these conditions, I would like to urge members of parliament from the region to cooperate with us,” he said. “I appeal to Rakhine MPs from both the union parliament and the state parliament to work with us for the peace and stability of Rakhine state.”
Taungyo pagoda battle
Despite the temporary cease-fires, the TNLA and government troops clashed in northern Shan state on Friday, with a spokesman from the ethnic Palaung force suggesting that the Myanmar Army offensive could jeopardized next week’s peace talks.
The morning battle occurred in the near the Taungyo pagoda in Hochaung village in Namhsam Township of Northern Shan State, forcing civilians to flee to safety in nearby communities.
Township resident Maung Khaing told RFA’s Myanmar Service that Myanmar forces deployed two helicopters to fire at targets.
“It was near Taungyo pagoda,” he said. “The aircraft dropped several bombs. For now, they have stopped fighting. The residents of Hochaung have been fleeing since yesterday. ”
Other area residents said the military fired heavy artillery from Namhsam in the direction of the pagoda and Hochaung village from Namhsam until about 1 p.m.
Township resident Thein Zaw said one side retreated from the fighting, which began around 7 a.m.
“They were firing toward one another for an hour, then one side retreated,” he said. “It has become quiet, but the troops stationed near Namhsam town has been firing both heavy and light artillery. We still hear the firing now.”
TNLA spokesman Major Mai Aik Kyaw confirmed the skirmish, saying that Myanmar troops launched the attack.
“Our troops are stationed at a pagoda on Namhsam Mountain,” he said. “The military started the fighting and launched the offensive. Military troops from Namhsam town were still firing heavy artillery until 1 p.m. today. They were firing toward Hochaung village and the Taungyo pagoda.”
Mai Aik Kyaw said the latest Myanmar Army offensive would make the upcoming peace talks more difficult.
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun was not available for comment.
Two boys injured by blast
Rakhine state meanwhile remained rocky for civilians with two children injured in a landmine explosion in Buthidaung township on Thursday, local police said, but provided no further details.
The township police chief confirmed the incident, but referred a reporter to the local border guard force for more information.
“That’s correct according to the report we heard yesterday,” he said about the blast. “It’s in the border guard’s jurisdiction, so it is their responsibility.”
RFA was unable to reach border guard officials, whose forces oversee remote suburban areas, for comment.
The blast that occurred near a school in Tin May village tract around 9 a.m. wounded two 12-year-old students, with one of the boys losing some fingers, according to a relative of one of the students.
“We heard the sound of an explosion from the village,” said Kyaw Thar, father of Nyein Chan Aung, who sustained injuries to his face and chest.
“They arrived home about half an hour later, and [we] had to clean up their blood,” he said, adding that both boys were admitted to Buthidaung Hospital around 4 p.m.
Nyein Chan Aung “got injured in the chest and ears, and we were told that an operation would be performed on him around 6 p.m,” Kyaw Thar said.
The other student, Khine Min Thein, also sustained serious injuries and was transferred to the hospital in Maungdaw township, he said.
A Maungdaw resident who visited Khine Min Thein at the hospital said the boy lost some fingers in the explosion.
Reported by Thiha Tun, Kan Thar, and Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung and Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.