By SAW YAN NAING and LAWI WENG
Representatives of major ethnic cease-fire groups meet in Chiang Mai to consolidate their alliance and discuss military tactics.
As expectations grow of an armed conflict with Burmese government forces, ethnic leaders met in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand last weekend to exchange military skills and tactics, sources told The Irrawaddy.
The ethnic leaders attending the conference were from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the Shan State Army–North (SSA –North), the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Chin National Front (CNF), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the Karen National Union (KNU).
The secret meeting reportedly took place with the aim of consolidating an ethnic alliance to oppose the Burmese army and to develop military training techniques which can be deployed in the field.
“The KNU and the NMSP have an agreement to cooperate if the Burmese government forces attack one or the other,” said a source who requested anonymity.
Four leaders of the NMSP, including party chairman Nai Htaw Mon and army chief Nai Joi Ya, participated in the meeting.
The NMSP, the KIO and the SSA-North have each signed cease-fire agreements with the Burmese regime, but recently rejected joining the junta's border guard force (BGF) plan.
Kachin sources said that KIO leaders who participated in the meeting actively sought suggestions and military cooperation from their fellow ethnic representatives in Chiang Mai as tensions escalate in the northern region.
Earlier this month, several KIO leaders visited China and asked the Chinese authorities to accept Kachin people that seek refuge in China should a war break out between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which is the military wing of the KIO, and Burmese government troops, the sources said.
KIO leaders have also launched a campaign in Kachin State asking Kachin civilians, including housewives and the elderly, to help KIA troops if hostilities break out in the area. The KIO leaders also warned the Burmese government not to send its soldiers into KIO-controlled areas and advised Kachin people not to invite Burmese friends to their homes.
Earleir this month, KIA soldiers fired a warning shot at a Burmese military helicopter as it flew over a KIA-controlled area in northern Burma.
In an interview with The Nation, Bee Htoo, the military chief of the KNPP who also attended the meeting, said, “We are now working closely together, both politically and militarily. I have personally met leaders of the SSA three times this year and we have an exchange committee with the KNU.
“I think there is no other way but to join hands and units and fight together. All groups and factions should know that we have a common enemy,” he said.
No official statement about the meeting has been made by the ethnic groups.
Similarly, a secret meeting was held in Chiang Mai in May at which ethnic representatives discussed avenues of cooperateration, both military and political.
The ethnic sources said that United Wa State Army (UWSA), the strongest ethnic armed group, which has also rejected the BGF proposal, has become the main source of weapons for the other ethnic armies.
NMSP leaders also issued a warning to the regime not to try to deploy troops within five miles of their 14 NMSP-controlled areas. They said they would open fire if Burmese soldiers entered their territory without permission.
There are 17 ethnic cease-fire groups, all of which have been under pressure by the Burmese government since April 2009 to transform their battalions into BGF units.
By SAW YAN NAING and LAWI WENG