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The citizens of Burma have just finished voting for a new government and parliament in what many see as a historic election.
Just days before the polls, the Tatmadaw [Burmese government forces] launched a major offensive against the Shan State Army (SSA-N) which had signed bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government at both State and Union levels. Nevertheless, the Burmese army continues with its ground offensive operations backed by air raids against SSA-N.
The Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) declared in its 14 November statement that Tatmadaw offensives escalated after the signing of a ‘Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement’, or NCA, with eight ethnic armed groups. Battles continue daily between the TNLA and government units in northern Shan State.
On another front, one of the heaviest battles since the renewed war of 2011 is between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese army. It took place in southwestern Kachin State, just days after the widely hailed 2015 elections.
Burmese fighter jets and helicopters pounded the KIA 8th Brigade headquarters. The Tatmadaw’s Nyaung Gaing-based artillery unit fired several artillery rounds on KIA positions, while ground troops from the 15th Light Infantry Battalion and 521st Light Infantry Regiment under the Myitkyina-based Northern Regional Command, and Infantry Battalions under the Mogaung-based 3rd Military Operations Command, launched a major assault on the KIA’s 8th Brigade on 14, 15 and 16 November.
A Burmese military officer, under the direction of the Myitkyina-based Northern Regional Command, called KIO representatives on 13 November accusing the KIA of attacking its 141st Light Infantry Battalion headquarters at Sinbo. This was evidently to justify its offensive operation against the KIA’s 8th Brigade headquarters. The officer told KIA representatives that five unknown men, believed to be KIA soldiers, approached 141st Light Infantry Battalion headquarters on 13 November and a gunfight ensued between them and the security guards.
The Kachin group’s Conflict Resolution Team subsequently sent a letter to Northern Regional Command, responding to the accusation by denying that their soldiers were involved in an attack on that date.
Locals and other observers find the Burmese army’s story ludicrous – that five men armed only with rifles would attempt to launch an attack on an Infantry Battalion’s headquarters in a major city.
During the first round of aerial attacks on 16 November, Kachin front-line sources report that about 30 government troops and officers, including a column commander, were injured or killed as Burmese units were mistakenly fired on by their own aircraft. Three military trucks carrying the wounded out of the conflict area were seen on the morning of 17 November.
Col. Maran Zau Tawng, the KIA’s tactical commander, said he believes that Burmese authorities have a long-term plan to build a highway between Mandalay and Myitkyina. According to him, the Burmese also have plans to connect the jade town of Hpakant with Hkanti in Sagaing Division through Ta Mahkan and Hong Pa.
There are also small-scale gold mining operations in the KIA’s 26th Battalion territory and some jade mines in the KIA 35th Battalion-controlled area. Thus the KIA’s 5th Battalion, 26th Battalion and newly formed 35th Battalion under the 8th Brigade pose obstacles for Burmese Army interests.
Kachin rebel spokesperson La Nan, in an interview with DVB, said, “There might be various intentions but according to locals in Mohnyin, the government was expecting their Union Solidarity and Development Party to win the polls, but in the end the National League for Democracy won and the army probably feels a need to show the town’s population what they are capable of, as a warning, by starting a fight with the KIA just about 4.6 km east of the town.”
It is clear that the Burmese military still has its own agenda in launching major offensive operations against the ethnic armed groups that did not participate in the NCA signing prior to and following the election.
Burma cannot be a genuine federal democratic country until and unless the Burmese army comes under the clear authority of an elected government and relinquishes its political patronage.
Brang Hkangda is editor of the Kachinland News’ English Website. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not reflect DVB editorial policy.
Read more about the conflict in Kachin and Shan states