ETHNIC YEARLY ROUND-UP : Ethnic states in 2019

The Kachin, Shan and Arakan States continued to be bogged down in armed conflict, while Karen State also saw skirmishes due to Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) road-building into Karen National Union (KNU)-controlled territories. Karenni (Kayah) State was ruffled with civil unrest because of the controversial General Aung San statue erection. Mon State saw inter-ethnic clashes and as well with the Tatmadaw, while Chin State was affected by Arakan Army (AA) armed conflict with the Tatmadaw in Paletwa in its territory. In Sagaing Region, National Socialist Council of Nagaland�Kaplang (NSCN-K) headquarters was raided by the Tatmadaw and its leaders were slapped with association with unlawful organizations and imprisoned.

Official peace negotiation process which has stopped since October last year was unable to be revived and the bilateral ceasefire talks between the government and the Northern Alliance-Burma (NA-B) could not produce any positive result and instead heightened armed engagement continues unabated.

A reliable observer organization puts the total armed conflict count for the whole county from January to September as 707 times, which if estimation for the remaining three months is to be made, could come up to about 235 clashes. Thus, it would be 942 clashes in total approximately.


Photo Credit � BNIKachin and northern Shan States

According to the Military Intelligence Department of Kachin Independence Army (KIA) armed conflict count with the Tatmadaw have de-escalated dramatically, although it was not just a few skirmishes as being downplayed by government and Tatmadaw sources.

The de-escalation of armed conflict when compared to previous several years, which started with the unilateral ceasefire announcement of Tatmadaw in December 2018 and ended in September 2019, is quite remarkable.

It listed the armed engagement count as 52 times, including improvised explosive device (IED) , counted from January 1 to December 6, 2019.

According to Military Intelligence Department of KIA: 663 armed engagement in 2011 from June 9 to December 31; 897 armed engagement in 2012; 224 armed engagement in 2013; 155 armed engagement in 2014; 634 armed engagement in 2015; 740 armed engagement in 2016; 361 armed engagement in 2017; 257 armed engagement in 2018; and 52 armed engagement until December 6, in 2019.

In comparison to the Kachin State, northern Shan State saw the heightening of armed conflict, mainly due to the Three Brotherhood Alliance, made up of Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) attack on six government military targets in Pyin Oo Lwin and Nawngkhio Townships on August 15. The attack was said to be in retaliation of continued offensives on their jungle bases, which also was designed to take away the heat from AA, that has been under immense military offensive pressure from the Tatmadaw, due to its attacks on four police stations in January, killing more than a dozen security forces in Arakan State.

AA also operates in northern Shan State together with the Three Brotherhood Alliance and also has its recruiting center in Laiza, in KIA-controlled area, apart from its heavy armed confrontation involvement in Arakan (Rakhine) State with the Tatmadaw.

Total armed conflict count in northern Shan State can be conservatively estimated between 150 to 200, including inter-ethnic conflict between rival Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) like TNLA an Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), which still continues but have largely died down due to the truce between the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) and RCSS, apart from clashes with the Tatmadaw.

SSPP is allied to the TNLA within the seven-member political alliance of Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), led by the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

The internally displace people (IDP) total population for Kachin and Shan States as of 30 September 2019 by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) is 106,183. The Shan IDP 8,841 and Kachin 97,342.

The talks of IDP return which has been going on since 2017 bear no fruits and the general opinion among the IDP are that ceasefire has to be in place first before repatriation could follow.

One outstanding occurrence is that the Tatmadaw withdrawal of its defamation lawsuit against Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) Chairman Reverend Hkalam Samson by the Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing out of goodwill and understanding.

The Reverend during his meeting with the United States President Donald Trump in Washington DC, on July 17, reportedly said to have told Trump there is no religious freedom in Myanmar and that oppression and torture are still common in the country; urged him to support Myanmar’s transition to genuine democracy and federalism; and thanked the United States for imposing visa sanctions against Myanmar Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing and other leaders over extrajudicial killings of Rohingya people.

Karenni (Kayah) State

In Karenni State the confrontation was more political, played out between the Karenni people and the State government, which is taken to be operating to suit the National League for Democracy leadership Burmanization scheme.

The episode is that the State government erected a statue of the late General Aung San in the center of the state capital Loikaw has been taken by the Karenni youth and people that the government did not care about Karenni history and did not respect the opinion of the Karenni people.

The controversy erupted into massive demonstrations, followed by consultation with the State government’s representatives which broke down and finally arresting the six Karenni youth leaders. They were eventually sentenced to six months imprisonment from which they will be released in mid-December.

The Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) which still has not signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) also met several times with the government’s Peace Commission (PC) in order to be able to ink the agreement and enter peace negotiation process, but it hasn’t been fruitful. KNPP said lack of trust resulted from the occurrences at the ground level was the main reason.

While it didn’t spelled them out, it is understood that they are controversial issues of erecting the late General Aung San statue against the wish of Karenni people and the jailing of the activists; land confiscation of the government and Tatmadaw; and the still unresolved case of the killing of four KNPP soldiers by the Tatmadaw, at a place not far from Loikaw, in December 2017.

Karen State

The Karen National Union (KNU) has been in a jam concerning the peace negotiation process with the government and still continuing since last year October when it withdrew from all official meetings and participation, although informal channel is kept open occasionally holding some meetings with the government’s PC.

On the military front, the KNU and the Tatmadaw has been at loggerheads. The former sees the Tatmadaw’s military road constructions starting from November 2017, in its controlled areas of northern Karen State, for its own advantage to connect the two strategic military bases. But the latter argues that it is for community development and for the welfare of the local people, which was duly refuted saying the move is to intrude into Karen areas, militarized and indulge in land confiscation.

Although in May 2018 the construction halted because of the negotiation after the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), armed wing of the KNU, and Tatmadaw series of clashes in March 2018, in February 2019 the potential for hostilities once again increased when Tatmadaw soldiers recommenced the road-building project.

In the first half of 2019, locals documented at least 20 clashes between the Tatmadaw and Karen forces. Artillery shells fell on fields and villages, killing livestock and injuring locals, according to Al-Jazeera report of September 12, 2019.

But according to a KNU officer who is privileged to reliable sources small clashes and sabotages have taken place since last year in Brigades 2,3, and 5 areas. And no less than 100 skirmishes have taken place to date.

As a result of the rising tensions, including active clashes between the KNLA and the Tatmadaw, it is estimated that from January 2018 until August 2019, over 3,000 villagers have been displaced, wrote the UNHRC report of September 16, 2019.

Mon State

The Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), armed wing of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), and KNU fought on October 17 in Balae Donfive village in Karen State’s Phayarthonsu Township and the Ye Chaung Phyar area in Dawei District, Tanintharyi. They also clashed near Ngar Kalay Chaung village in Mon State’s Ye Township on October 20.

More than 100 Karen and Mon people sought refuge in Phayarthonsu town because of the fighting in the township. However, on October 23, the conflict was resolved.

The Tatmadaw seized the base from the MNLA in Palanjapan Village on Nov. 27 after fighting broke out between the MNLA and a joint force of Tatmadaw and Karen Border Guard Force troops. It happened because Tatmadaw intruded into MNLA area without permission. The Tatmadaw withdraw from the premises.

Arakan (Rakhine) State

Following AA attacks on four police stations in Buthidaung Township, where 13 police were killed and 9 wounded, the Tatmadaw has been in offensive which was met with equally tough counter-attack resistance.

Reliable conservative estimate of monthly armed clashes were said to be around 40 time per month from January to September, with relatively high 84 clashes in March and second highest in May with 64 clashes. The final quarter of the year statistics for October to December isn’t yet available but it is safe to conclude that the total clashes might be around 480 to 500 armed engagements.

The human causality for both warring parties is hard to estimate as no reliable statistics were available. According to ULA/AA website, the Tatmadaw causalities could be in hundreds, but the Tatmadaw said that they are well under a hundred count.

Tatmadaw true news information team during its June press conference said that from December 2018 to June 2019, 90 persons have been arrested and interrogated for suspicion of contact with AA; still under interrogation 36; released 8; in court proceeding 45; and guilty verdict sentence 3 persons, according to the RFA report of December 8, 2019.

At least 10 villagers have died in military custody in war-torn Rakhine state after soldiers detained them for interrogation in Minthartaung village in Kyauktaw township, Letka and Waitharli villages in Mrauk-U township, and Panmyaung village in Minbya township, according to RFA report of December 2. But the overall figures could be much higher.

However, as of 30 September 2019, there were 24 IDP sites in Rakhine State, with a total of 130,886 IDPs, according to updated data provided by the Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster, of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA).

AA has been on bilateral ceasefire negotiation talks with the government’s PC for four times since about a year, together with other members of NA-B, made up of itself, KIA, MNDAA and TNLA, but haven’t been successful, as armed engagements continue in northern Shan State and Arakan region with the Three Brotherhood Alliance.

In addition, the government’s arrest of AA close relatives on charges of association with unlawful organization and lately this month, AA leader’s wife and two children have been arrested by the Thai authorities, due to Myanmar government’s request. But at this writing, the deportation is pending, as the Thai authorities are likely to charge them with visa violations and perhaps deport them to the third country, likely to be China where the wife of AA leader was said to have started her journey to Thailand.

Chin State

In June, the majority of internally displaced people in Paletwa town, who fled the latest armed clash between AA and Myanmar Army’s troops in Paletwa Township, returned to their respective villages.

In September, three Chin political parties�the Chin National Democratic Party (CNDP), the Chin Progressive Party (CPP), and the Chin League for Democracy (CLD)�merged to form the Chin National League for Democracy.

U Hoi Tin, an MP from Paletwa was abducted by AA on November 3, including 5 workers who construct India � Myanmar Road, 2 translators and 2 motor boat divers, altogether 10 persons in total. All are already released and only U Hoi Tin remains in custody until now.

Sagaing Region

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Kaplang (NSCN-K), which signed bilateral ceasefire with the Sagaing regional government in April 2012, has not taken part in the peace negotiations as an observer since January.

The Tatmadaw’s Northern Command raided Taga, the headquarters of the NSCN-K, on January 29, alleging that they sheltered and trained Assam and Manipur rebels in their fight against the Indian authorities and detained 10 NSCN-K members. Five were later released on April 5 and military dropped the charges.

The five jailed members were sacked for their continuous effort to propagate and encourage the signing of the NCA, which is completely against the political principles of the party, the NSCN-K said in a statement in November.

Source: The Shan Herald Agency for News