An entire military battalion has surrendered to rebel forces amid an offensive by an alliance of three ethnic armies in northern Myanmar’s Shan state, according to sources with the armed resistance who called the capitulation the first of its kind in the region.
All 41 members of Light Infantry Battalion 143, including a deputy commander and two company commanders, agreed to lay down their arms on Monday following talks with the Northern or “Three Brotherhood” Alliance a day earlier, Yan Naing, information officer of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, or MNDAA, told RFA Burmese on Wednesday.
“It is true that the 41 [troops] surrendered – it happened on [Oct.] 30,” said Yan Naing, whose MNDAA, based in Shan’s Kokang region along the border with China, is one of three members of the ethnic army alliance along with the Arakan Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.
Representatives of the Three Brother Alliance had urged commanders of the Kunlong township-based battalion to give up on Oct. 28, a day after it launched “Operation 1027” – named for the Oct. 27 date of the offensive – and simultaneously struck junta positions in the strategic Shan cities of Kunlong, Hseni, Chin Shwe Haw, Laukkaing, Namhkan, Kutkai, and Lashio, the state’s largest municipality.
The MNDAA’s information department said Monday’s surrender marked the first time that a whole battalion had capitulated during an operation in northern Shan state, adding that the alliance had also confiscated a weapons cache as part of the agreement.
It said 15 pro-junta militia fighters had also surrendered with their weapons on Tuesday.
As part of a deal to entice junta forces to surrender, the MNDAA paid 1.5 million kyats (US$715) to each soldier from the battalion and pro-junta militia fighters that lay down their arms and escorted them to territory under their control, the group said.
Operation 1027 making gains
The MNDAA claims that more than 100 junta troops and pro-junta militia fighters have surrendered during Operation 1027, although its claims could not be independently verified.
The Irrawaddy online journal cited the Three Brotherhood Alliance as saying that, from Oct. 27-31, it took control of 87 Myanmar military camps and three towns in Shan state – Chinshwehaw, Nawngkhio, and Hseni.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the alliance urged junta troops to give up their camps and outposts or face attack. It said those who surrender will be guaranteed safety, medical care, and other assistance that will allow them to return to their families “with dignity.”
The junta has yet to release any information about the surrender of its troops.
Calls to junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. General Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Wednesday.
Local resistance groups – including the anti-junta People’s Defense Force, or PDF – have joined in Operation 1027, which the Three Brotherhood Alliance says was launched to stop military attacks on ethnic armies in the region, get rid of online scamming rings in Kokang, and build a federal union.
UWSA staying ‘neutral’
One group that will not be joining the operation is the ethnic United Wa State Army, or UWSA, which confirmed it was staying out of the campaign in a statement on Wednesday.
Wa troops will “adopt a principle of neutrality” and avoid armed conflict in the Kokang region, but will retaliate against military intervention of any kind in its region, the statement said.
A UWSA official confirmed to RFA that the information contained in the statement was correct.
The UWSA said that the troops involved in the current conflict should “exercise restraint and pursue negotiations aimed at reaching a ceasefire.” It also said that humanitarian assistance had been provided to displaced persons who fled into the region due to the fighting.
On the day Operation 1027 was launched, Kokang forces attacked Chin Shwe Haw, which was controlled by the United Wa State Army. The fighting forced some 10,000 residents of the town to flee to nearby Nam Tit for shelter, the UWSA official said.
Another ethnic armed organization called the National Democratic Alliance Army, or NDAA, based in eastern Shan state has said it will not take part in the offensive and was adopting a principle of neutrality, but would “continue to maintain peace and stability” in the border region.
The Three Brotherhood Alliance armies are also members of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee, or FPNCC, led by the UWSA. The seven-member coalition also includes the Shan State Progressive Party, the Kachin Independence Army, and the NDAA.
Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.