Clashes have resumed between government troops and allied ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State, almost a month after the gunfire last stopped.
Fighting continued on Thursday evening at an outpost of the ethnic Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). Two days earlier, the TNLA and allied troops from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) clashed with the government’s Light Infantry Battalion No. 506, which attacked their outposts in a KIA-controlled area.
“Our outposts were attacked in Kutkai and Mongtong townships,” said Mai Phone Kyaw, general secretary of the TNLA. “The government troops’ LIB 506 attacked us with 80-82 mm rocket launchers, so we had to fight back.”
According to the TNLA, three columns of government troops have made military movements west of Kutkai Township, where TNLA outposts were also attacked by the government’s Infantry Battalion 145.
The TNLA—which represents the Palaung, a small ethnic group living in northern Shan State, not far from the Chinese border—is believed to have a strategic military alliance with both the KIA and the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), which is connected to the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N).
The rebel groups have been locked in a decades-long guerilla war with the central government. The TNLA supposedly has seven regiments with about 1,300 soldiers under its command, and is said to enjoy popular support among the local Palaung.
The TNLA has outposts in a number of Shan State townships, including Namkhan, Kutkai, Namatu, Mongtong, Nansam, Momate, Moegyot and west of Kyuakme.
Government troops are deployed most heavily in Nansang, Mongtong, Namkhan, Kutkai and Namatu townships. Normally, government troops camp in villages where the gas pipelines pass through from Burma’s Arakan State to China’s Yunnan Province.
“When government troops make a military movement in an area, they tell us to withdraw our outposts,” said Mai Phone Kyaw. “If we do not withdraw, they say they will fire at us. But we have no place to withdraw, so we stay at our outposts.”
The TNLA spokesman said a few people had been injured in the recent clashes but could not provide an exact number. There were not many casualties because the TNLA outposts were located in relatively remote regions, at the top of hills, where the ethnic armed group can keep watch for approaching government troops.
Before the clashes this week, the guns were silent for nearly a month in rebel-controlled areas of north Shan State, despite the close proximity between rebel and government outposts, sometimes between one and two miles apart, according to Mai Phone Kyaw.
The fighting has reportedly forced Kachin and Palaung residents to flee from their homes and hide in the jungle.
The renewed clashes occurred amid pledges by the government to soon hold a nationwide ceasefire conference with ethnic minority groups in the capital, Naypyidaw.