The Burma Army captured two strategically important outposts of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) following a two-day offensive last week, according to Shan ethnic rebels.
Palaung and Kachin armed groups, meanwhile, are also reporting an increase in military operations in northern Burma in recent weeks.
SSA-North Col. Parng Hpa said government troops attacked two rebel camps located in SSA-North territories in Kyethi (Kesi) and Mongshu townships.
On the night of Feb. 28, Shan rebels were forced to withdraw from their camp in Kyethi, located about 16 km away from the SSA-North headquarters at Wan Hai, after two consecutive days of bombardments and attacks, Parng Hpa said.
He added that while the camp in Kyethi was under fire, three government battalions took control of another SSA-North camp in Mongshu Township, which the group has been using as a hub to transport mining products from areas under its control.
“These two places are militarily and economically important to us,” Parng Hpa told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “They [the government troops] can pose a military threat to our Wan Hai headquarters since they’ve seized those camps.”
The Wan Hai area in Kyethi and Mongshu townships is located at a strategically important junction connecting northern and southern Shan State.
“Such kinds of acts would hinder the trust-building process between the government and us, for peace,” Parng Hpa said of the attacks.
The SSA-North and government signed a ceasefire in January 2012. However, fighting has continued, with the SSA-North claiming that it has engaged in more than 100 clashes since the ceasefire was signed, while the rebels lost five camps to government troops.
The recent seizure of two SSA camps reportedly coincided with the arrival of Sao Khun Hsai, the general secretary of Shan State Progress Party, the political wing of SSA-North, in Naypyidaw to join discussions about the nationwide census organized by the Department of Immigration and Population.
There is widespread concern among ethnic armed groups and NGOs over the census, which will start this month, with many opposing the categorization of the country’s ethnic minorities by the government and the UNFPA.
The SSA-North area under attack is located west of the Salween River, while the allied United Wa State Army (UWSA) is based on the opposing river bank, according to another Shan rebel source, who said the government offensive also served to put pressure on the Wa.
In March 2011, the Burma Army launched a large-scale military offensive in the area displacing more than 30,000 civilians.
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) also have forces in northern Shan State.
The TNLA, which represents the Palaung ethnic population, said on Tuesday that it experienced a sharp increase in Burma Army attacks since last month.
TNLA general secretary Mai Phone Kyaw said there were about 20 clashes in Kyauk Mae and Manton townships in February, adding that this month TNLA fighters had fought with the army two times.
He said the 77th Light Infantry Division had been deployed during the operations, adding that the unit had been active in attacks in northern Shan State in the past.
Both the KIA and TNLA have not yet reached ceasefire agreements with the government despite several rounds of talks last year.
Kachinland News reported that the 77th Light Infantry Division on Sunday conquered a KIA post called Loi Hkam Bum, located in Namtu Township, northern Shan State.
The KIA has said the Burma Army seized a number of rebel posts since last month, including a deadly attack on a rebel platoon stationed in Kachin State’s Bhamo Township about an hour’s drive from Laiza, a town on the Burma-China border where the KIA is headquartered.
In recent months, the Burma Army also carried out operations in KIA territory in Mansi Township, southern Kachin State.
The increase in Burma Army operations in Kachin and northern Shan states risks undermining planned nationwide ceasefire talks between the government and ethnic groups.
President Thein Sein’s government is eager to sign a joint nationwide ceasefire agreement with the groups in order to show the international community that his government is making progress in resolving Burma’s decades-old ethnic conflicts. The government has signed ceasefire agreements with 14 armed groups since 2012.
Mai Phone Kyaw of the TNLA said the increase in Burma Army attacks in northern Shan State casts doubt on the government’s peace initiative, adding that in the past the Burma Army signed ceasefire agreements with some ethnic groups to be able to attack others.
“Our ethnic armed groups have to be careful about why they are attacking us now. They did these similar things in the past,” he said, adding that he also doubted whether Thein Sein had full command over the military.
“President Thein Sein should maintain control of his troops if he wants to have a nationwide ceasefire agreement in the country,” Mai Phone Kyaw said.