The 20 November Northern Alliance -Burma (NA-B) offensive against the Burma Army or Tatmadaw and police forces in northern Burma, along the Chinese border, that erupted suddenly has changed the peace process landscape drastically.
While the NA-B reasoned that it has to take such actions because it has no other choice to demonstrate its frustration and dire political side-lining of the Tatmadaw, with head of the National League for Democracy (NLD) regime Aung San Suu Kyi, perhaps reluctantly endorsing its hard-line position vis a vis the three excluded Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), namely the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA).
To many, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) joining the so-called NA-B might be a puzzle, as it is not excluded from the peace process, even though it has not sign any state or union-level ceasefire agreement, including the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
But the point and reason for the KIA forming the NA-B together with the three excluded EAOs is that it has been militarily pressured and has to endure the massive onslaught for three months in a row, since the end of the first 21st Century Panglong Conference, which the KIA also attended.
The Tatmadaw’s military pressure has been, no doubt, to push for the KIA to sign the NCA. The NA-B offensive, on the other hand, is primarily aimed at taking the heat away from the Tatmadaw offensives on the KIA, apart from showing displeasure of Tatmadaw’s exclusion policy on the three excluded EAOs, hoping perhaps that the Tatmadaw might rethink its rigid stance and make accommodation for participation in the peace process.
The NCA has been subjected to discussion for the time being at the insistence of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a seven party military alliance, also headed by the KIA, to incorporate its 8 point proposal, which includes declaration of bilateral nationwide ceasefire between the Tatmadaw and the EAOs; tripartite dialogue composition in all levels of peace process negotiations, as decades-long endorsed by the U.N.; commitment to the structuring of a genuine federal, democratic union and most importantly, all-inclusiveness of all EAOs – not written as a point in the proposal, but nevertheless, its main point of refusal to sign the NCA last year in October.
The government Peace Commission (PC) has even highlighted this point to accuse the UNFC that its refusal of not signing the NCA, due to lack of all-inclusiveness of all EAOs in the peace process might be just a pretext to delay the signing. The UNFC has yet to come up with a clarification to this accusation.
The recent situation after more than a week was said to dissipate and the government in control of the Kutkai-Muse road. But rebel sources said the clashes are ongoing and don’t seem to end anytime soon.
According to Myanmar times of 28 November, Colonel Mong Aik Kyaw, a spokesperson for the NA-B, fighting continued, with clashes in at least five different locations including Mong Koe, Pang Sai and the 105 Mile border trade zone.
Rebel sources also reported that they have seized most of Mong Ko, a border town in northern Shan State, but the Burma Army retained control of a nearby hilltop base as fighting continued on 28 November.
The Irrawaddy also reported that the ethnic armed groups took control of the Mong Ko border gate, the immigration zone, and most areas of the town. Then they launched an offensive against Burma Army troops in the area, according to the joint ethnic armed groups’ spokesperson, Tar Aike Kyaw.
As of the 28 November morning, they had captured several Burma Army positions in the town.
“Already, the town of Mong Ko has fallen into the hands of the joint ethnic armed groups,” Tar Aike Kyaw told the Irrawaddy.
The Burma Army has suffered a high number of casualties, and the ethnic armed groups were able to seize many weapons, according to a video posted on Facebook by NA-B.
Thus, while the Burma Army is eager to promote the situation as under control, the war is likely to go on for a while, as it is also said to be trying to solve the problem militarily and also negotiation.
According to general secretary Khin Zaw Oo of the government’s Peace Commission, during the Peace Forum held at Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon, on 25 November, ongoing conflicts in northern Shan State have been approached not only via military power but also through negotiations. He was addressing the forum on the issue of achieving a total ceasefire and nationwide peace.
Call for intervention and military reinforcement
The NA-B has called for the Chinese intervention, in its 7 point statement of 25 November stating: “In order to reach durable, stable and genuine political negotiation (process), China, which is sharing border (with Burma), is requested to mediate on the basis of equality.”
The statement further thanked the United Wa State Army (UWSA) for its timely statement to be a mediator to end the armed conflict.
According to Myanmar Times, following a “2+2” meeting of members of the ministries of foreign affairs and defense with their Chinese counterparts on November 25 in Naypyitaw, the two sides released a joint statement addressing the recent uptick in conflict along the border.
“Both sides expressed their desire for the prevalence of rule of law and security along Burma‐China borders, and the Chinese side expressed its hope for speedy solution of current tension in the northern part of Myanmar and to restore normalcy in the border areas as early as possible,” it read.
The Joint Strategy Team has urged all “warring parties to fully respect international humanitarian law, which provides specific measures to protect civilians in armed conflicts”.
The team continued, “An immediate cessation of hostilities must take place. A peaceful solution to the conflicts in Myanmar is a critical priority for the future of the country and its people. This should be based in open political dialogues that address the long‐standing issues which are at the origin of this conflict.”
“The Tatmadaw is reinforcing its military strength and the Chinese military is also drilling along its side of the border,” Sai Loon Nao told Shan Herald. “The fighting is going to continue although the situation is calm in town.”
Following intensified hostilities between Burmese government forces and ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State, the Chinese military has beefed up its manpower and munitions along the border, according to local sources.
Sai Bee, a resident in Muse Township who fled across the border to the Chinese town of Shweli to escape the recent fighting, also told Shan Herald that he saw tanks and more than 200 military trucks full of soldiers arriving at the China‐Burma border on Saturday.
“More than 200 military trucks, tanks and heavy weapons, including machine guns, came in with the troops and they are now positioned near the border,” he said. “It has been reported that they have been sent in to protect the border area, but we do not know what is going to happen next.”
According to Ko Aung Aung who is also a resident in Muse, at least ten Burmese military trucks with troops and weapons from Lashio were on Friday heading to the volatile areas of 105‐Mile, Parng Zai and Mong Koe in Muse District.
Now let us look at what some of the crucial actors are saying.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi’s announcement of 23 November regarding the armed conflict in northern Shan State seems to be blaming the NA-B and endorsing the Tatmadaw.
Buttressing the blame on the NA-B, the announcement said: “At a time when people of Myanmar are in process of striving for national reconciliation and peace that had remained elusive to them in the past, it is extremely disappointing and saddening that these incidents are instigated. Our sympathies and condolences are with victims who had lost their lives and who are wounded. Mining of bridges and attacks on border outposts by these armed groups also cut-off flow of trade, transport and communication are detrimentally affecting the socio-economic lives of civilian population in the area.”
To reiterate her call for the signing of NCA and praising the Tatmadaw, the announcement wrote: “Despite these incidents, the Government is keeping the peace door open to welcome all relevant stakeholders for participation in the peace process. To this end, the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) is needed to be signed to end all conflicts. The contribute to this process stability and normalization must return to the State State. The government is striving its utmost to return the situation to normalcy. The valiant effort of the Tatmadaw and security forces has resulted in stabilizing a certain degree of stability in the Northeast Shan State.”
Min Aung Hlaing
Meanwhile, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, intentionally or unintentionally raised the question of a potential military takeover of the country, amid an ongoing military conflict in northern Shan State and threats from Muslim militants in the west Burma.
During the month of November alone he mentioned twice the clause in Burma’s 2008 Constitution—which was also drafted by the military—that allows the military to stage a coup in the event of chaos and instability. Besides, the Constitution also reserves 25 percent of the seats in Parliament for military representatives.
Recently, on 26 November, the Global New Light of Myanmar reported that the military chief
pointed out to the senior military officers in his speech at the National Defense University that provisions for emergency situations are included in the Constitution of Myanmar, 2008 and members of the Defense Services are required to learn the situations on the ground and to work in the interest of ethnic people.
When he was visiting Brussels earlier this month, to attend the European Union Military Committee (EUMC) for the first time on 9 November, the senior general also defended the 2008 Military-drafted Constitution, which allows for the participation of defense services in national politics. He praised the Constitution for restricting, in a state of emergency, the military from remaining in power too long, and requiring them to act in accordance with the President’s approval.
Nai Han Tha
Regarding the NA-B offensive, the UNFC leader Nai Han Thar when asked by the Democratic Voice of Burma on how his organization would handle the situation, replied: “The Kachin, Palaung, Arakan and Kokang combined resistance is in reality trying to destroy (counter) the (Tatmadaw’s) offensive with a new pattern of approach. The government has been conducting offensive for three months now and if only defensive mode is employed, we will be hurt. By maneuvering outside, the government troops have to take security measures of their areas, which the alliance believes would lessen their offensives.”
Earlier, an NCA signatory ethnic leader also commented that the NA-B might be employing “offensive is the best defensive” strategy, to counter the prolonged attacks of the Burma Army.
According to Jane’s Terrorism & Insurgency Monitor Briefing of 25 November, the recent conflict might be the result of EAOs countering and resisting the Tatmadaw’s military pressure to sign the NCA. And the offensive might be probably designed to show the capability and cohesion of the NA-B to conduct such a large scale operation. But may also be an indication of an attempt by China to pressure Naypyitaw into revamping the peace process.
It seems the coordinated attacks have achieved the attention and message that the UNFC and NA-B were keen to deliver. But the simmering armed conflict would likely go on for a while, until there is a change of attitude in the peace process that all stakeholders could be at home with.
Meanwhile the cost of conflict, which have produced a few thousands refugee fleeing to China and IDPs around the conflict areas, human causalities and economic cost, would be squarely put on the shoulders of the NA-B. Already, the parliament has agreed to discuss the issue, emphasizing it on protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity, labeling the EAOs as being terrorist elements.
The EAOs has countered that when the Tatmadaw’s offensives resulted in gross human rights violations in ethnic areas, which the ethnic population have to bear the brunt, nothing much was ever mentioned.
Whatever the case, this blame game won’t bring anyone, anywhere, any good and the lessons to be learned from this conflict episode is that military pressure to goad the EAOs into signing the NCA is back-lashing and it is time to accommodate the excluded parties into the peace process, so as to become all-inclusive, in trying to build a genuine federal system of government that all have been aspiring for so long.
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