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BURMA: Sr. Shan State Army officer responds to criticism over joining junta-run Border Guard Force

July 12, 2010

The following article is reprinted with permission from Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.), Thailand.

Senior SSA officer responds to criticism over joining junta-run BGF
©  S.H.A.N.
By Hseng Khio Fah and Emily Hobbs
July 12, 2010

A senior officer from Shan State Army (SSA) ‘North’ responded to criticism from the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) and United Wa State Army (UWSA), as well as people within the Shan State Army, of its decision to join the junta run Border Guard Force (BGF), according to sources on the Sino-Burma border.

Two of the three brigades, #3 and #7, which make up the SSA-N, consented to be controlled by the Burmese military in April this year. The remaining Brigade No.1 continues to resist pressure from brigades #3 and #7, as well as the Burmese military, to join the BGF.

The SSA-N official representing brigades #3 and #7 claimed that the groups had no choice but to join, explaining that his decision to do so was made in the best interests of the people of Shan state and would offer more stability for the region.

But Sai Leun, the leader of NDAA better known as Mongla group, commented that the SSA-N was: “acting only in its interest and not for the interests of the people”, adding that the group’s name is supposed to represent the whole Shan State and not just the territory in the north which will be most affected by the developments.

Those in the lower ranks of the SSA have indicated they share Sai Leun’s sentiments by defecting to join the steadfastly resistant First Brigade and the anti-Naypyitaw Shan State Army (SSA) ‘South’, which remain the principal armed opposition movement against Burma’s military rulers.

Unlike its neighboring groups – the UWSA and the NDAA – the SSA-N territory has no borders with any other countries and will therefore form a militia called the Home Guard Force (HGF) instead of becoming part of the BGF.

Groups who agree to transform themselves into BGF must accept Burmese military officials who will occupy most of the key positions in running the force, such as administration, personnel and material support departments.

But the SSA-N’s position as an HGF means that it is not necessary for Burmese military officials to take over the running of the force. The SSA official cited this fact – that there would be no Burmese intervention – as the basis for its decision, saying that it was only because of this that the group had agreed to transform.

However, in contradiction to that statement, unconfirmed reports last week suggested that the Burmese army was requesting brigades #3 and #7 move to Mao Valley along the Ruili valley (Shweli valley) on the Sino-Burma border and become forces of the Border Guard. Such a move would likely mean that Burmese officials would assume the running of the brigades, thus undermining the senior official’s defense of the group’s decision. The purpose of the move to Mao Valley remains unclear. It is possible that the Burmese army intends to maneuver the SSA-N into a position whereby they can safeguard the region during the election process against the SSA-South’s Force 701 active along the Sino-Burma border.

In an effort to reassure China there is stability in the region and ensure their continued support, the Burmese army has also told resisting groups that it will not engage in any further discussion about refusal to join the BGF until after the election, although defection of the members of brigades #3 and #7 to the First Brigade and to the SSA-South is likely to heighten tension and put further pressure on the Burmese Army’s efforts to meet the required quotas to form three Home Guard battalions, set at between 900 – 1,000 troops.

In the event that the Burmese army acts on its threats to attack dissenting groups, having brigades #3 and #7 in Mao Valley could provide a useful sacrificial front line defense against retaliatory attacks from the SSA-South and members of their own former sister groups in the First Brigade as they continue to gain strength in numbers.

Since late April the senior officers of the SSA-N have been keeping a low profile. The decision to speak now comes after months of mounting criticism from other resisting groups after brigades 3 and 7 reneged on the agreement made between all ceasefire groups on 16 April to form a Command, Control and Communications Centre for their joint defense against the junta’s BGF program.

The senior official’s statement does little to explain the reasons for the about-face and will likely be found to be unsatisfactory by those who continue to adhere to the April agreement.

The 3rd and 7th Brigades are commanded by Major General Loimao and Gaifa respectively and the 1st by Maj-Gen Pang Fa. He is reportedly close to the UWSA.

[End.]

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