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Karenni Army Clashes With Myanmar Forces in Kayah State, Breaking Bilateral Cease-fire

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The Myanmar Army and an ethnic armed group in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state have blamed each other for breaching a bilateral cease-fire agreement during a weekend clash in Hpa Saung township that left no casualties.

The national army’s Light Infantry Brigade 428 clashed with soldiers from the Karenni Army, the armed wing of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) on Oct. 20.

The KNPP signed a cease-fire accord to end hostilities with the Myanmar military in March 2012. The group had signed a previous cease-fire agreement with the former military government in 1995, but that pact held up for only three months.

Saturday’s skirmish was the first time in six-and-a-half years that the two sides engaged in fighting.

The KNPP issued a statement on Saturday accusing the Myanmar army of violating the agreement in the latest hostilities, while the Kayah state government issued a statement of its own the same day, in which Colonel Myint Wai, the state security and border affairs minister, denounced the ethnic group for the clash and urged it to control its troops.

Though RFA’s Myanmar Service could not reach local government officials for comment, a KNPP official insisted that the clash clearly violated the cease-fire agreement signed at the state level.

Khu Plu Rae, a KNPP secretary, told RFA that the ethnic army did not make any missteps under the current cease-fire arrangement, because the Myanmar military failed to inform it in advance that it was moving its troops.

The KNPP talked with an official in charge of the liaison office in the Kayah state capital Loikaw as well as with local military officials on Saturday and Sunday, he said.

“A deputy commander of the LIB-428 told us that the army can go anywhere in the Union, and it doesn’t need to report it,” Khu Plu Rae said.

“We will discuss this issue with the local government later this month,” he said. “We will remind them about the terms of the agreement which requires that they maintain their routine and inform us [about their movements].”

Clashes of the past

The KNPP is one of 11 ethnic armed groups that have not yet signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA).

The bilateral pact it signed in 2012 requires troops from both sides to maintain their routine movements and inform each other of changes in their locations three days in advance.

The fight occurred while the government, the national military, the 10 ethnic armed groups that have signed the NCA, and the ones that have not, are planning to hold another round of peace talks in November.

“Such clashes routinely took place [in the past], but the number of incidents decreased after the signing of the NCA,” Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo, vice chairman of the NCA-signatory Karen National Union (KNU), told RFA.

In informal meetings, Myanmar government representatives and those from NCA signatory groups have agreed to hold firm on the national cease-fire accord and to strive to build trust with each other to avoid hostilities, he said.

The KNPP has been in talks with Myanmar’s peace negotiation team to get involved in the nationwide peace process spearheaded by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi through a series of formal negotiations under the 21st-Century Panglong Conference which began in August 2016.

She intended to hold peace talks every six months, but only three sessions of talks have been held to date.

The government wants to hold three more rounds in 2018 and 2019 to reach its goal of laying out the basic principles of a peace accord that will end seven decades of civil war in Myanmar.

So far, the parties to the talks have agreed on 51 basic principles involving the political sector, the economy, and land matters, but they have yet to reach an accord on the security sector.

Reported and translated by Nandar Chann for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.