By The Irrawaddy / 19 January 2017
RANGOON — Tensions rose Thursday as the Burma Army demanded that soldiers of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) withdraw from one of their bases in Mong Hsu Township, northern Shan State, in order to make way for a road-building project that cuts into SSA-N territory.
A battalion commander from the Burma Army directed Mong Hsu Township authorities to instruct the SSA-N to pull back from their Mong Hsu base, according to an SSA-N spokesperson.
“They threatened to attack us if we refused to withdraw from our base,” said Col Sai Su of the SSA-N. “They ordered us to withdraw by noon today.”
As the noon deadline passed, Col Sai Su told The Irrawaddy that his troops had not withdrawn, and the SSA-N would fight back if the Burma Army approached their positions.
“The demands from the Burma Army were only verbal, and we need to find out more,” said Col Sai Su. “Whether or not their orders are legitimate.”
The SSA-N has not signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), but it did sign a bilateral ceasefire with the government in 2012. Still, there are occasional clashes between the Burma Army and the SSA-N, including a major government offensive against the SSA-N headquarters in Wong Hai in 2015.
Col Sai Su criticized the way in which the Burma Army pushed into Mong Hsu. “They may have expected that our talks would yield a positive result,” he said. “But these were not constructive steps they took to engage with us.”
Tensions have mounted since early January when Brig-Gen Htet Htun, a Burma Army leader, informed SSA-N leaders that the army planned to construct a new road in Mong Hsu. Two Burma Army battalions have deployed in January near the area of contention in Mong Hsu Township, according to Col. Sai Su.
So far, SSA-N leadership has not agreed to allow the road construction because they suspect it is intended to make it easier for the Burma Army to launch future military offensives in the region.
“When we receive an order like this, to withdraw from our positions in Mong Hsu, how do they think we feel?” said Col Sai Su. “They should understand our feelings.”
“They should come and talk directly to us. They should not send someone else to do it,” he added.