Clashes are continuing in northern Shan State between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and government troops, as census enumerators try to collect demographic data in the area.
Fighting was reported twice on Friday in Thar Pan Kon village, Kutkai Township, including at 3 am and at 10 am, according to TNLA spokesman Mai Aie Kyaw.
“Our troops are active in that area to crack down on opium cultivation,” he told The Irrawaddy.
He said no TNLA casualties were reported, while it was unknown whether any government soldiers had been wounded or killed.
Clashes between both sides also broke out on Wednesday, he added.
On Sunday Burma began its first nationwide census in over three decades, with more than 80,000 enumerators spanning out across the country to collect demographic data.
The census has been controversial for a number of reasons. In western Burma, enumerators were instructed not to record information from respondents who identified as Rohingya Muslim. Elsewhere, activists have opposed the classification of ethnic groups as overly simplistic or inaccurate. And questions have arisen over whether data could be properly collected in areas where armed conflicts are still ongoing.
In northern Burma, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) said it would not allow the census to be conducted in areas under its control. On Wednesday, The Mirror state-run newspaper reported that data collection had been unsuccessful in northern Shan State and some parts of Kachin State because of threats from the KIA.
But the TNLA, an ethnic Palaung armed group, said it would not try to block data collection.
“We told our troops to avoid fighting during the census. We let the census proceed in our territory, no problem,” Mai Aie Kyaw said.
The KIA and the TNLA are the only two major ethnic armed groups that have not signed ceasefires with the government.
More troops from the Burma Army have been deployed to northern Shan State recently, despite pledges in Naypyidaw to work toward a nationwide ceasefire accord. The TNLA reported that 40 Burma Army trucks with new recruits traveled through Namkhan Township on Thursday, and that clashes between both sides broke out 30 times in March.
Government troops have also continued to fight in northern Shan State with Kachin and ethnic Shan armed groups.