Rebel armies in Myanmar have killed at least 15 people, mostly soldiers, in attacks on a military academy and other government targets in the country’s supposedly stable heartland, according to the authorities.
The Northern Alliance of powerful armed groups, which control large areas near the Chinese border, claimed responsibility for the attack yesterday (Thursday) on the Defence Services Technological Academy in the colonial hill station Pyin Oo Lwin in western Shan State, where army engineers train and other attacks.
The Burmese military’s reports and the death tolls it provides are always difficult to confirm because of limitations on media freedom in the repressive state.
“We assume they carried out the attacks as the Tatmadaw seized tonnes of drugs a few weeks ago, ” a military spokesman said. Last month the authorities said they launched a major drugs crackdown in Kutkai in Shan State.
The Golden Triangle, between China, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, is a multibillion hub for heroin and methamphetamine production.
Army spokesman Tun Tun Nyi said soldiers were fighting rebels near the Gokteik railway bridge built under British colonial rule and a tourist attraction.
A bridge across the Goktwin valley had been destroyed and the township’s drugs police office had been burned down, he said.
Fighting was reported at a highway toll to Lashio, the largest town in Shan state.
“They killed seven soldiers in Goktwin, two at the toll gate and police and civilians too,” Tun Tun Nyi said. Military reports of death tolls are often misleading.
Pyin Oo Lwin, a tourist attraction near Mandalay, had been unaffected by the decades-long conflict, which has mostly taken place in rural areas.
Rebels groups have been fighting the government – and often between themselves – for land and resources since the end of the Second World War.
A ceasefire was recently supposedly extended until August 31.
The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), one of the groups in the Northern Alliance, said it was responding to government incursions into rebel-held areas.
“We aim to change battlefronts, as the Burmese military is increasing offensives in ethnic areas,” a TNLA spokesman Mong Aik Kyaw said, according to Reuters.
“The Aung San Suu Kyi-led … government is trying to make peace, but nothing can happen if the military doesn’t participate in it.”
Attacks in previously peaceful areas is a setback for State Counsellor Suu Kyi, who has been promising to bring peace to the country since taking office in 2016.
She promised to prioritise peace talks with rebel armies that combined outnumber her armed forces but the 74-year-old has always failed to offer details about how this will be achieved. Suu Kyi said she would revive the Panglong Agreement, signed by her father, Aung San, before he was assassinated.
The agreement was reached in Panglong, southern Shan State, between Aung San and the Shan, Kachin and Chin representatives on February 12, 1947. The deal accepted “full autonomy in internal administration for the frontier areas” and envisioned a federal union. It is celebrated in Myanmar as Union Day each February 12.
But conflicts rage across Kachin and Shan states in the north and Rakhine State on the Bangladesh border as Suu Kyi has proved powerless to prevent military offensives into rebel-held areas.
The Ta’ang National Liberation Army. The ethnic armed groups are powerful and wealthy. Picture credit: YouTube