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Northern Shan State has seen continued clashes between the Burmese army and the Kokang armed group Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) on Tuesday.
Several other ethnic armed groups – including the Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakanese Army (AA) and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) – are also fighting alongside the MNDAA, according to Lt-Col Ta Bhone Kyaw, secretary of the TNLA.
Fighting was first reported on Tuesday morning in a report by the military-owned Myawady news. The report said that Kokang troops had attacked Burmese army outposts near the town of Mawhtike in the autonomous Kokang Special Region.
Reports elsewhere have claimed that the MNDAA is being commanded by its former leader Peng Jiasheng (also written Pheung Kya-shin). He was ousted from the group in 2009 and his whereabouts have been unclear ever since.
Tun Myat Linn, general secretary of MNDAA, told DVB that the Burmese army provoked the violence.
“We have been living peacefully on the west bank of the Salween River for years now. We were driven out by an offensive by the Burmese army,” Tun Myat Linn said on Tuesday.
“They continued to launch a full-scale attack on us after we moved to the east bank. Yesterday, we came under fire from three helicopters assisting the assault in Mawhtike, and some of our troops were injured,” he added.
Tun Myat Linn also said three government soldiers were killed in the clash on Monday, and that six weapons had been seized from them.
Further fighting broke out in Tashwehtan, northwest of the Kokang Special Region capital of Laukkai, officially known as Laogai, in the morning of 10 February as Burmese army reinforcements arrived in the region.
“There have been several clashes north of Kongyan on the east bank of Salween River last night and throughout the morning. Columns of the TNLA, MNDAA, AA and KIA are involved,” Lt-Col Ta Bhone Kyaw told DVB on Tuesday.
He went on to say that the groups have combined forces because of their shared objectives, and the sustained violence against them from Burma’s military despite ongoing ceasefire talks with the government.
The President’s Office Director Zaw Htay gave no comment to DVB regarding the developing situation on Tuesday, but directed attention to a report published in state media on 9 February. The report claims that the army had engaged in three clashes with “renegade” Kokang troops.
In a statement dated 9 February, the MNDAA vowed to continue their fight against the government until their demands for ethnic equality, regional development and self-determination are fulfilled.
The Kokang Special Region, otherwise known as Shan State Special Region 1, has seen relative peace in the past two decades. The MNDAA, under the leadership of Peng Jiasheng, enjoyed two decades of ceasefire with the government. This calm faltered in 2009 when armed groups came under pressure to transform into a paramilitary Border Guard Force under the control of the Burmese military.
The MNDAA resisted this move, and hostilities from the army increased, purportedly due to MNDAA links with the drug trade.
Peng Jiasheng was subsequently ousted through government-backed mutiny in Kokang.