Exclusive interview on northern Shan State issue with former military General who served in Kachin State


NP News - Mar 23

Q: It is clear that the ‘Operation 1027’ isn’t that simple as an ethnic armed revolution. From the military point of view, what points can be analysed now though it couldn’t be clear in October 2023?
A: The Operation 1027 is nothing to do with the NUG. The thing is international relations between the superpower countries from the West and China (our neighbour). We have to make sure to have a balance in communicating with them. It can be said that this conflict is played proxy by the neighbour country.

Q: The Kokang insurgent (the MNDAA) and its allied TNLA (Ta’ang) and AA (Rakhine) possess advanced technologies and troop numbers within a very short time and they raided many Tatmadaw security outposts immediately. This can’t be done unless a strong backing behind them. In abridge, we can see who is behind them. After 2015 Laukkai war, the MNDAA has thousands of troops after eight years. What is your opinion how did they get those capacities? And what is the source of incomes for those thousands of troops to survive?
A: It’s clear that most drones they used were from China and the insurgents are assumed definitely getting assistance from China to overcome the frequencies we use here. The insurgents got those high-tech weapons only when they got assistance from the neighbour country. Since the MNDAA wasn’t the administrative position in Laukkai, it isn’t easy to make money for them even through the underground market to make sure financing that much troop numbers, weapons and food supplies. Thus, it is obvious that there is an entity who sponsor them with bulk supports. Only then, can they do such big operation and get such victory.

Q: Which factors drive those conflicts in Shan State?
A: In the years ruled by Senior General Than Shwe, the West bloc imposed sanctions against Myanmar. What is more, the government did not have enough financial sources. At that time, Senior General Than Shwe ensured good relationship with China and built the nation gradually and peacefully. Later in the civilian government era, especially in U Thein Sein administration, collaboration between China and Myanmar became weak since the Myitson Dam project was suspended. The suspension of Myitson Dam project impact on their (China) interests. There are other big projects of China in Myanmar such as Kyaukphyu deep sea port and the railway project. With regard to those projects, I think they (China) have concerns whether the Tatmadaw can guarantee the security and safety of those projects. Therefore, the 2015 Laukkai conflict with the MNDAA occurred after the announcement of suspension of the Mytison Dam project. Thus, current situation in Myanmar is that China is building to guarantee its interests in the long-term.

Q: The top leaders from the Tatmadaw, including Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, claimed that it’s the consequences of conflict between Peng and Yan families competing and fighting for power. Other issues they claimed involved drug smugglings. Then, can it be said that it is the conflict bigger than the Peng-Yan families conflict?
A: Now, the Yan family absolutely give up the armed using. The Yan group does not involve in the executive mechanism. They do businesses in the mainland. The Yan group does not want to get back the power. Therefore, even if the Peng-Yan conflict is involved, it can be said a piece of cake. The main course is the interest of the neighbour country.

Q: Again, the online scam is the main word involved in this northern Shan State conflict. Controlling and combating the online scam is one of the China’s agenda in this affair. Both the Tatmadaw and the insurgent groups use this agenda ‘the online scam’. However, battles were intense. What do you see upon it?
A: The online scam affects many things. It is done by the Chinese from China. They do it in our country, especially in the territories where rule of law by the central government is weak and influenced by the non-State armed groups such as the border areas. Of course, the online scam has to be terminated since it has many negative impacts on both China, Myanmar and the world. However, they (China) support the insurgents (MNDAA, TNLA and AA) to get territories under the title of ‘Combating the online scam’ isn’t reasonable.

Q: The northern Shan State conflict has been paused due to the mediation conducted by China. What other consequences will be possible?
A: The deal involved bargaining though since the insurgent groups conquered territories. Based on that situation, China facilitated to gain its interests. However, in my opinion, this conflict isn’t finished at all. There will be conflicts between the insurgents. Ta’ang and Shan will have different interests. There are many Shan people residing in Namkham. When the TNLA intervened Namkham, conflicts are arisen. There will be many battles fighting for conquering territories between the ethnics and tribes. On the other hand, for Myanmar, it is seizing the country’s sovereignty. That means losing territories of the country, Myanmar citizens and Myanmar Tatmadaw. Those territories definitely must be regained by the Myanmar army in one day in the future.

Q: Then, the Kokang and the TNLA take their own territories that they claimed. However, there might be clashes between the TNLA and the KIA, and the SSPP. In fact, there are four or five armed groups moving in the northern Shan State. They might fight to each other for conquering territories.
A: It is possible. Like the UWSA, the MNDAA is more powerful than the TNLA, SSPP and the SSA. Since the MNDAA is powerful among them, those conflicts are not possible at the time being. However, later there will be clashes between them. Another paradigm is that if Shan ethnics are totally expelled by them or the Shan people totally leave their land, properties and housings, there won’t be clashes later since those vacant areas will be fully occupied by the TNLA.

Q: Is it opposing or eradicating the military dictatorship or combating against the online scam when we talk about the northern Shan State?
A: It is just taking their own territories. The MNDAA and the TNLA take their own territories by committing the military assaults. Amongst, China reaps its own interests from those conflicts.

Q: Another thing is that the public has a concern if the Tatmadaw is continuously losing, will there be the condition if the insurgents conquer Naypyidaw or something like that. Again, when those non-State armed troops have chance to control their territories, they will be getting stronger and more powerful and it will be intimidating the Central Government. It is what the public is worried at the time being.
A: It depends on the unity of the Tatmadaw and the ideology and willingness of the people from the mainland. Supposing that the people from Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw themselves want to be ruled by the insurgents, and they don’t feel bad even if the insurgents are assaulting PyinOoLwin or Mandalay or whatsoever, we have to be assaulted by them. The people will know what is truth only when the insurgents intrude their homes and take their properties, set ablaze their homes, and rape and harass them. That’s very clear.

Q: Turning analysis to the Tatmadaw in northern Shan State conflict, is the Myanmar Tatmadaw mentally collapsed or failed or what? Some military regiments, the commanders and the brigade-general level surrendered in the conflict. So, the public want to know what happened to the Tatmadaw personnel. How do they think? What’s your opinion on it?
A: There were battles in those territories since many years ago. However, today battles involved advanced technology such as drone tech. It isn’t that the Tatmadaw personnels are lack of courage or they are cowards. As a matter of fact, it isn’t the way the Tatmadaw used to do; surrendering or concessionary policy.

Q: Can it be said that the Tatmadaw loses the war to the TNLA, MNDAA and AA or to the other entity? Which means is it that the Tatmadaw loses the entity behind those insurgents.
A: When the powerful one and the one with less power are fighting, it is very simple that the smaller one will be losing. Supporting the insurgents behind the scene isn’t the good neighbour.

Q: When we interpret this northern Shan State conflict, it isn’t that the Tatmadaw loses to the northern insurgent groups. What we understand is the Tatmadaw has to retreat since it is difficult to fight against the entity behind the insurgents.
A: When the neighbour country stops supporting and sponsoring the insurgents with finance, weapons other supplies; and on the day that the neighbour country behaves as a good neighbour, the insurgents cannot conquer over us. It is very clear.

Q: The opposition groups have said that it is fighting against the military dictatorship together by the NUG and the ethnic insurgent organizations. They claimed that it is an attempt to terminate the military dictatorship. If there is an entity behind them, those words that they claimed ‘ending the military dictatorship’ is just a lip-service. And we take that there is no sound policy between the NUG and the ethnic insurgent groups.
A: True. They don’t have a strong policy between them. In fact, the NUG did not involve in the northern Shan State battle strategy. Nor the NUG can command them (the northern insurgents). Those battles are nothing to do with the NUG. However, the NUG tries to take advantage from the conflict.

Q: How much important for Myanmar is it losing territories in northern Shan State?
A: It is important, especially in border trade. It impacts very much on the border trade. We, Myanmar, lose many millions of kyats through that border route. It means not only the country’s economy and the government revenue have negative impacts and losses. Many sectors including farmers, agricultural products, aquatic products and many others were affected since those products are transported through the border trade.

Q: What if we close the border trade located in the northern Shan State? How will the insurgents generate money? And since they took the territories, what if there is no such border trade in the area? Should the government try to re-open and re-operate the border trade channel between Myanmar and China?
A: I don’t agree to re-open or re-operate the border trade channels. We should not value this border trade that much in such situation. Actually, they (the provinces of China sharing borders with us) are the landlock areas. Therefore, they (China) want to re-open it. However, we should suspend to re-operate the border trade posts. In other words, closing the border trade posts can deter surviving the insurgent groups.

Q: Is there limitations in the territories like the northern Shan State for the military commanders because there are rules and provisions stated by the NCA (Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement) or the unilateral ceasefire?
A: Only for the NCA signatory groups, there will be rules and limitations. But for the Kokang insurgents MNDAA and its allied groups, they did not sign the NCA.

Q: With regard to the northern Shan State, losing territories there, can we re-gain those areas? Or is it we give up those places totally?
A: War means destruction. There will be fatality and devastation. In addition, those area like Laukkai, Chinshwehaw and Kongyan became re-involving in our sovereignty under the administration of the State Law and Order Restoration Council. Therefore, war isn’t the only mean to re-gain those area under our executive mechanism.

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