Burma: new fighting with Shan State rebels

Despite a ceasefire signed earlier this year, new fighting broke out last week between Burma’s army and both the southern and northern factions of the Shan State Army. Two Burmese soldiers were killed in a four-hour fire-fght with Shan State Army-North June 17 in Monghsu township, Loilen district. The SSA-S reported a clash with Burmese soldiers June 15 in Mongton township, Monghsat district. In both cases, the Shan State forces say government forces were the aggressors, with the SSA-S relinquishing a “forward operating base” to Burmese troops. “This puts doubt in our minds regarding building peace,” said SSA-S spokesman Sai Lao Hseng. “How could we manage this if we cannot even build trust?” The SSA-S has sent a complaint letter to the government’s Peace Making Committee.

The SSA-N signed a ceasefire in February—but has had 17 clashes with Burmese army since then. The SSA-S reached a ceasefire deal in May. The SSA-N, which is represented politically by the Shan State Progressive Party, is independent from the SSA-S, which is represented by the Restoration Council of Shan State. (Democratic Voice of Burma, June 19)

Fighting was also reported between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Burma’s armed forces at scattered locations in northern Shan state. Both sides suffered casualties in fighting around Pangsai (Kyukok) and Mongkoe (Munggu) towns. The KIA, having suffered one dead, boasted that more than a dozen Burmese soldiers dead in the fighting. In recent days, the KIA have attacked military and police bases. (Kachin News, June 18) The KIA, mostly based in Kachin state to the north, signed a peace deal in the 1990s, but it broke down last year.

At UN behest, Burma—the world’s second opium producer after Afghanistan—launched an aggressive poppy eradication program this year, sending police troops armed with weed-whackers into the opium fields of Shan state. According to the UN, opium production in Burma has more than doubled over the past five years, and it is believed that under the peace deals signed between the regime and ethnic armies in the ’90s an amicable sharing of the poppy proceeds was understood. The new eradication program may be linked to the new fighting. Jason Eligh, Burma country manager with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), admitted: “The path to peace is lined with poppies. We must address that.” (Reuters, Feb. 20)

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is meanwhile on an historic tour of Asia and Europe. Burma’s government has publicly lectured her to only refer to her country as Myanmar, announcing: “As it is prescribed in the constitution that ‘the state shall be known as The Republic of the Union of Myanmar’, no one has the right to call [the country] Burma.” But Suu Kyi defiantly used the name Burma—including in her speech to the World Economic Forum in Thailand on June 1, and in European capitals in the following days. (DW, Angola Press, June 30) Coverage of her tour has not emphasized the renewed fighting in Burma.

See our last post on the struggle in Burma.

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