Three ethnic armies from the Northern Alliance declared a conditional one-month ceasefire in northern Shan and Rakhine states on Monday, saying they want to try to build trust with Myanmar forces amid hostilities that have displaced thousands of civilians and disrupted trade with China.
The three groups — the Arakan Army (AA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) — said they would not launch offensives against the government army during the cease-fire which runs from Monday through Oct. 8.
The ethnic armies said they would respond, however, if government forces initiate attacks, deploy helicopters or fighter jets, or commence heavy artillery fire.
“This cease-fire announcement is one of our attempts to build trust between parties and implement the peace negotiation process in a pragmatic way,” said AA spokesman Khine Thukha. “But this does not mean total surrender. We will maintain the right to defend ourselves if they initiate attacks.”
The members of the Northern Alliance, which also includes the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), have not signed truces with the government and continue to engage in fighting with Myanmar forces in northern Shan and Kachin states and in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state in a quest for greater autonomy and ethnic minority rights within a federal system.
Government peace negotiators and leaders from the ethnic armed groups, who have met three times this year to discuss possible bilateral agreements to end the fighting, have agreed to meet again for talks on Sept 16 and 17.
The Myanmar military, which declared a temporary unilateral cease-fire in five of its military command regions, including northern Shan and Kachin states, in December 2018, recently extended the truce for a third time to Sept. 21, despite continued clashes between its soldiers and the three ethnic armies in northern Shan state.
The military’s temporary cease-fire does not include Rakhine state, where hostilities with the AA have intensified since late last year.
Myanmar forces said a third extension of the cease-fire was necessary to provide more time for talks between the parties.
“Both the government and the military regard the peace issue as a priority,” Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “I view this announcement as positive step toward securing peace.”
There has been no armed engagement between the government military and the KIA since the original declaration of the unilateral cease-fire, Myanmar forces said.
Tanks in Myitkyina
The declaration of a temporary cease-fire by the three Northern Alliance groups came amid a military exercise during which several Myanmar Army tanks and vehicles drove along the streets of Kachin state's capital Myitkyina as protesters demanded the release of two Kachin youths sentenced earlier to 15 days in jail for staging a public protest about the plight of civilians displaced by fighting.
Zaw Min Tun said the passing of the tanks through town was a regular procedure.
“We have conducted this practice regularly,” he said. “We pass along the streets every month. Now, it is coinciding with the protests. There is no other purpose than that.”
A statement issued by the KIA meanwhile said that Myanmar soldiers had attacked its regiments in neighboring Kachin state, though Zaw Min Tun said he did not have any reports about armed assaults.
“Several landmines were planted between the KIA and military troops,” said Naw Bu, spokesman for the KIA and its political wing the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
“We heard the mine blasts last night for unknown reasons,” he said. “They must have responded with gunfire out of fear.”
Naw Bu said no one was injured during the shootings.
The TNLA, MNDAA, and AA have been engaged in fierce clashes with Myanmar forces since Aug. 15 when they launched coordinated attacks on five locations in northern Shan state and Mandalay region, killing 15 Myanmar soldiers, policemen, and civilians.
The three ethnic armies said they conducted the armed assaults in retaliation for offensives by Myanmar soldiers against them in areas under their control.
The KIA was not involved in the mid-August attacks or the clashes that followed, which disrupted trade with neighboring China by blocking and damaging key roadways, including the Mandalay-Lashio-Muse Union Highway.
Road conditions good
The conflict has affected civilians in six townships, displacing more than 7,500, though about 3,500 are still in in temporary shelters, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“Most of them returned home,” said humanitarian worker Mei Mang who is assisting civilians living in displacement camps. “Only two or three refugee camps are left. People from the remaining camps will return home tomorrow. Before there were as many as six camps.”
Trade and transportation between Myanmar and China have meanwhile resumed.
“The road conditions are good now,” said Sai Khin Maung from a fruit-trading center in northern Shan state.
“Chinese traders have purchased all the rice stored in storage facilities during the fighting,” he said. “There is not much trading of fruit because it is not the fruit harvesting season. Most of the currently traded commodities are Chinese products.”
In less than a month after the Aug. 15 attacks, 17 civilians were killed and 27 were injured, while about 30 cargo trucks and vehicles were destroyed.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun and Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.