Less than a week ahead of Myanmar’s historic 21st Century Panglong Conference, the Myanmar army has launched an offensive against the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) in northern Shan State's Lashio District, according to an SSPP/SSA official.
Maj. Sai Hsu, the spokesperson of the SSPP/SSA, said that the fighting broke out yesterday near the village of Kong Ark Lieng in Mong Gao tract of Tangyan Township, Lashio District, when a Myanmar government unit under the control of North Eastern Command violated SSPP/SSA territory.
“A Tatmadaw [government forces] unit under command of Tangyan attacked us,” he said. “The fighting lasted from 4:15pm to 6pm on Sunday. And then at 7pm, they attacked us again with artillery.”
Prior to the fighting, the Shan army spokesman said, some 30 Myanmar soldiers were called in as reinforcements at Mong Gao base No. 33.
On April 29, Shan Herald reported that the Myanmar army’s North Eastern Command has deployed troops to the Loi Je/ LoiLeng area in Tangyan Township, an SSPP/SSA stronghold, while ordering the Shan rebels to withdraw from the Loi Je/ LoiLeng ridge.
The SSPP/SSA said it has been active in that area for more than 50 years, and therefore refused to evacuate.
“If we withdraw from this area, it would mean withdrawing from Mongsu Township too,” Maj. Sai Hsu said. “If we look at military strategy, we would be giving too much advantage to the Tatmadaw.”
Loi Je/ LoiLeng ridge is located to the west of the Salween River, near United Wa State Army (UWSA)-controlled territory.
Observers say that Loi Je/ LoiLeng is where the SSPP/SSA makes contact with the Wa. They speculate that government forces are trying to divide the SSPP/SSA from the UWSA or create problems between the two militias.
SSPP/SSA was one of the United Nationalities Federal Council members that did not sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement, or NCA, with the Thein Sein government last year. However, it has signed state-level and union-level ceasefire accords.
During the election period last year, the Myanmar army launched offensives against the SSPP/SSA, causing more than 6,000 people including women and children to be displaced from their homes.
“This is the time for building peace,” said Maj. Sai Hsu. “I don’t understand why they are attacking us.”