Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Burma sends mortars to Shan State

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese government has reinforced Burmese forces in Mong Tong Township, Shan State, due to growing tension with the United Wa State Army (UWSA), according to sources close to an armed group in Shan State.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Sai Sheng Murng, the deputy spokesman of the rival Shan State Army-South (SSA) said seven M120 120 mm mortars were sent to reinforce Burmese Infantry Battalion No 65 on June 20.

The battalion is based in Nakawngmu village, Pong Pa Khem Sub-Township, Mong Tong Township, in eastern Shan State, which is about 29 kilometers from the Thai-Burma border.

The source said the reinforcement may have been made in preparation for a possible military offensive against the UWSA if tension with the group continues growing. (JEG's: on the other hand, it might be for some other purpose :-) )

According to a source on the Sino-Burmese border, the mortar reinforcements have been made close to UWSA military region 171, where Burmese army leaders have put pressure on the UWSA to withdraw from strategic positions in southern Shan State along the Thai-Burmese border. However, UWSA leaders have refused to withdraw its troops from the area.

The UWSA has rejected a request by the Burmese junta to turn their forces into border guards. The group, which is the most powerful ethnic armed ceasefire group in Burma, has 23,000 troops.

Mai Aik Phone, who is an observer of the UWSA, said the group was watching closely the current attempts by the Burmese military to transform ethnic armed forces into border guards. The UWSA, meanwhile, has warned its people to prepare for the worst. However, they said that they would try to negotiate with the Burmese government before fighting.

Due to heavy pressure on the Burmese government by the international community over the ongoing trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese government would be unlikely take any direct action against the UWSA for the moment, according to the sources.

Meanwhile, the Burmese Army launched a military offensive against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) early in June. The joint troops of the Burmese Army and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) seized the headquarters of KNLA Brigade 7, which was a main base near the Thai-Burma border. The attack has forced an estimated 4,000 Karen people to flee to Thailand.

The Burmese junta is trying to transform all ethnic armed ceasefire groups in the country into border guards ahead of elections they plan to hold in 2010.

However, many ethnic armed ceasefire groups do not want to live under the control of the Burmese Army, and they have refused to disarm and become border guards.

Under the junta’s scheme, the Burmese military will have more control over the armed ceasefire groups. Each border guard battalion would consist of 326 troops, including 30 from the Burmese army. Three of these would be Burmese officers with administrative positions.

The Burmese military junta No. 2 Gen Maung Aye visited China to talk about the ethnic armed ceasefire groups in Shan State last week.

The Sino-Burmese border sources said that Gen Maung Aye failed to persuade China to put pressure on the groups. (JEG's: of course, the Chinese know their "faithful" partners)

China refused to use its influence in the area because it wants a stable border in Shan Sate in order to run oil and gas pipelines through the area, according to the sources.

Beijing is scheduled to begin constructing the pipelines, which have to pass through areas of Shan State controlled by the ethnic armed groups, in September 2009.

Seventeen insurgent groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the ruling generals since 1989, according to official Burmese reports.

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