US “concerned” about Shan conflict

Myanmar’s 22 large, powerful rebel armies present a considerable challenge to the new government. Source: Wikimedia

The US embassy in Myanmar has said it is “deeply concerned” over clashes involving ethnic armed groups and government forces in Kachin and Shan states in the north of the country that have displaced thousands of residents.

The ongoing violence threatened to unravel Myanmar’s fledgling peace process, it said.

Heavy clashes broke out this month in Shan State between two rebel armies: the Restoration Council for Shan State (RCSS) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

The RCSS signed the so-called national ceasefire agreement with the government and seven other rebel groups last October but the TNLA did not. This allows the RCSS freedom of movement to attend peace talks. The TNLA, as an outlawed organisation, cannot not easily leave its stronghold, which has presented an obstacle to peace talks.

The comes as power is slowly transferred from the semi-civilian government of former general, President Thein Sein to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

“The US embassy is deeply concerned about ongoing clashes in Shan State involving the Ta’ang National Liberation Army [TNLA], the Restoration Council of Shan State [RCSS], and the military,” the embassy in Yangon announced.

“We urge all sides to exercise restraint and recommit to dialogue so that the peace process may remain on track, and those displaced can return to their homes and resume their lives,” it said.

At least 4,300 people have been displaced this month, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The conflict in northern Shan State, home to the Palaung ethnic group, whose interests the TNLA says it represents, was reportedly caused by the RCSS’s advances from the south.

The TNLA claims the government is assisting its new ally, the RCSS, with some analysts fearing that fighting between rebel groups could increase as they try to establish their territorial claims ahead of what they expect to be a move towards federal state.

Efforts to achieve a nationwide peace will fall to Suu Kyi, who is set to form a government on April 1.

An anonymous senior Shan State government official was quoted saying: “It’s still unclear what TNLA is doing and who is behind them. Although Palaung people are the majority in the area, it was under RCSS’s control since long time ago, and TNLA never showed interest before.”

He said it might be an attempt by the TNLA to establish self-administration region, like the areas established elsewhere along Myanmar borders by other armed groups. The RCSS was a major rebel groups and not want to lose ground to the smaller TNLA, the official reportedly said.