Fighting Erupts in Myanmar’s Shan State as Armed Groups Resume Offensive

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Fighting Erupts in Myanmar’s Shan State as Armed Groups Resume Offensive

The Three Brotherhood Alliance has launched the second phase of its Operation 1027 offensive, attacking regime positions across northern Shan.

Fighting Erupts in Myanmar’s Shan State as Armed Groups Resume Offensive
Credit: Depositphotos

Ethnic armed groups are once again on the march in eastern Myanmar along the country’s border with China, after the collapse of a China-brokered ceasefire last week.

Yesterday morning, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) reportedly launched a large-scale offensive in the vicinity of Lashio, the largest city in northern Shan State.

The Irrawaddy reported that “fierce clashes” were now taking place around the strategic city, the northern terminus of the railway from central Myanmar and the location of the Myanmar military’s North Eastern Regional Command. In response, junta bases in Lashio town have reportedly bombarded villages in the area.

The attacks appear to mark the breakdown of the Haigeng Agreement, a ceasefire that was brokered by the Chinese government between the Myanmar military and the MNDAA and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). The two groups are members of the Three Brotherhood Alliance, a grouping that also includes the Arakan Army, which continues to make inroads against the military in Rakhine State in Myanmar’s west.

The MNDAA reportedly launched its attacks on June 29, four days after the TNLA, which resumed its attacks on June 25, claiming that the junta violated the terms of the ceasefire agreement. “While we complied with the agreement, the junta bombarded our territory with artillery and aircraft,” TNLA spokesperson Nway Yay Oo said in an interview with The Irrawaddy published on June 28. “The junta is also making the people face hardships. They stop and inspect people and raise tax rates. They destroyed bridges and roads, breaching the ceasefire deal.”

Nway Yay Oo added that the TNLA’s ambition was “to eradicate the dictatorship. But I can’t say how long it will take or how far it will go.”

According to local media reports, the TNLA, accompanied by anti-regime People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), engaged junta forces in Kyaukme and Nawnghkio townships in Shan State, and Madaya and Mogoke townships in neighboring Mandalay Region.

The TNLA and its allies are now battling with junta forces for control of Kyaukme, a town that lies about halfway between Lashio and Pyin Oo Lwin, the location of the military’s Defense Services Academy. After falling partially under TNLA control, Kyaukme has since been subject to retaliatory air raids, which have reduced sections of the town to rubble.

A photo posted on one Facebook page appeared to show TNLA and in the center of Mogoke, a ruby-mining town around 128 kilometers to the northwest of Kyaukme.

As of yesterday, The Irrawaddy reported, “the TNLA and PDFs had seized nearly 40 junta frontline bases including several battalion HQs and police stations while over 100 regime troops have surrendered in the renewed offensive.”

The MNDAA and TNLA attacks appear to mark a resumption of Operation 1027, a strikingly successful offensive that the Three Brotherhood Alliance launched in October of last year. By the time the ceasefire was brokered in January, the three armies had seized a large swathe of territory in northern Shan State, including “several hundred junta frontline bases and military command centers,” around 20 towns, and control of several important border crossings with China.

The resumption of the attacks has brought MNDAA and TNLA forces closer to capturing the Myanmar military’s nerve centers in Shan State. If the current offensive proceeds even half as quickly as the last phase of Operation 1027, there is a good chance that the Myanmar military’s position in northern Shan will collapse altogether. This would potentially open the country’s dry central plain to resistance attacks, depending on how far the Shan State-based groups are willing to push.

Another interesting question concerns the views and position of the Chinese government. Interestingly, former President Thein Sein paid a visit to Beijing on June 29, where he attended a celebration marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of China’s “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.” Thein Sein also held a sideline meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, prompting speculation that he was seeking Chinese support to end the offensive.

Jason Tower, Myanmar country director at the United States Institute of Peace, argued that it was “highly likely that Min Aung Hlaing’s regime passed a message through Thein Sein requesting Chinese intervention in compelling the Brotherhood Alliance to stop its present military activity in northern Shan.”

Whether China is willing to offer this support remains to be seen. The first phase of Operation 1027 was widely believed to have proceeded with passive Chinese acceptance, in large part because of Beijing’s frustration at the junta’s failure to root out the industrial-scale online scamming operations in Kokang, a territory along the Chinese border then controlled by a junta-aligned Border Guard Force. In launching its offensive, the Three Brotherhood Alliance explicitly pledged to shut down the scamming operations, which the MNDAA claims to have done after capturing Kokang in early January.

Following the collapse of a ceasefire agreement that Beijing hoped would preserve the stability of the border region – the location of a series of crucial Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure projects – some observers believe that a similar dynamic may still pertain.

“It is reasonable to assume that the TNLA’s fresh attacks could not have occurred without the nod from China,” political and military analyst Aye Chan Hsu argued in The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “Beijing has apparently decided to teach the regime a lesson after its demand for dialogue fell on deaf ears.”