A firefight between ethnic Pa-O and Shan rebels broke out over competing territorial claims in southern Shan State’s Maukmae Township on Wednesday morning.
The clash between forces from the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) began at about 6 a.m. and ended before noon, sources on both sides confirmed. There were no known casualties.
Khun Myint Tun, chairman of the PNLO, told The Irrawaddy that the fighting was due to his group’s implementation of a development project for Pa-O families in the town of Maukmae.
“We have built houses for our members, as we had agreements with the government after the ceasefire talks,” said Khun Myint Tun, adding that both the PNLO and the political wing of the SSA-S, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), claim to control the area where the project is being carried out.
The RCSS sent two letters last month telling the PNLO to cease its construction of housing in the territory. The first letter, dated Aug. 3, ordered the PNLO to leave the area within five days. The PNLO did not comply, prompting a second letter on Aug. 23 signed by Lt-Gen Yawd Serk, again ordering the Pa-O rebels to vacate the territory.
An RCSS source said the PNLO’s failure to heed the letters, and its deployment of three regiments to the area, escalated tensions.
“Therefore, we attacked them,” said the RCSS member, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
The Pa-O are an ethnic minority that live mostly in Shan State. They have their own self-administered region covering Hopong, Pinglong and Hsi Hseng townships.
Pa-O rebels began an insurgency campaign against Burma’s central government in 1949, but the ethnic minority has also enjoyed periods of peace, including the signing of ceasefires in 1958 and 1994.
After splintering into several factions, the PNLO was reunited in 2009. The group signed a Union-level ceasefire agreement in March 2013.
The RCSS signed its own ceasefire with the central government in 2011.
The PNLO claims a broad swathe of territory beyond its self-administered zone, from Maukmae and Lan Khur to Loilin and Taunggyi, the Shan State capital.
Khun Myint Tun said three PNLO members were also detained by the RCSS on Aug. 21 and had not yet been released.
The Pa-O chairman said he had discussed their release with RCSS representatives who attended a meeting over the weekend of political parties, civil society organizations and the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of ethnic groups.
UNFC leaders pledged on Wednesday to help in settling the dispute between the two ethnic armed groups. The PNLO is a member of the UNFC, but the RCSS is not.