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Regional army commander queries Shan militia loyalty

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The newly transformed Shan militia group led by Sao Gai Fa has been told to “shape up or ship out” by the Burmese Army’s regional commander in charge of southern Shan State, a source close to the militia said. 

Loi-MaoEastern Command chief Brigadier General San Oo delivered the reprimand last week during a three-day inspection tour of Burmese Army front-line bases in Monghsu and Kunhing townships in southern Shan State.

The commander visited the former Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) Brigade 7 base in Kunhing and met leaders of the group that had transformed into a Border Guard Force (BGF), ostensibly under junta command. The regional commander had instructed the group to provide a security escort for deputy junta leader Maung Aye and an unspecified artillery general, but the group’s leaders had refused, according to the source and Shan Herald Agency for News.

The refusal angered the commander.

According to the source: “The commander told us, we have to follow his instructions, especially those from Naypidaw [the junta’s national capital]. [He reminded us] we are no longer a ceasefire group but a militia group commanded by the Tatmadaw [the Burmese military].”

The source said San Oo even threatened the group, quoting him as saying: “We don’t want a fake militia but a real one that is loyal and follows instructions. If you are not happy with your position, you can either join the Brigade 1 of the SSA-N and we will assign someone else who is ready to do the job.”

After the threat, the group leader compromised and said he would second two militia units to the commander.

A former SSA-N member who recently joined the Shan State Army-South at its Loi Tai Leng base said: “Sao Gai Fa, the former head of SSA-N Brigade 7 is smart about taking care of his own business and will sacrifice his men if necessary [to that end].”

In October, the Burmese Army seized seven boats and arrested some members of the group while prospecting for gold along the Salween River.

According to an analyst, “The Burmese Army is well informed how the ceasefire groups are running their businesses and the Burmese Army can seize them anytime.”

He added that the groups’ leaders were more concerned about their individual interests rather than the movement as a whole.

According to an SSA-N BGF middle-ranking officer who requested anonymity, “Sao Gai Fa has moved all his family to Rangoon due to security concerns.”

Apparently, some of his fellow mid-ranked former Brigade 7 officers had been looking for a way out of BGF status. Some want to join SSA-N Brigade 1 and some, the SSA-S, he said.

“The result of 20 years under the ceasefire agreement is the Border Guard Force and it is in stark contrast with our original goals,” the mid-ranked officer grunted. 

The SSA-N had comprised brigades formerly known as 1, 3 and 7. Two brigades led by Sao Loi Mao and Sao Gai Fa agreed to transform into BGFs in April after pressure from officers of Military Affairs Security, Burma’s military intelligence wing.

However, Brigade 1, led by Major General Pang Fa, which has a strong base in Wanhai in Kehsi township, southern Shan State, refused to transform his troops into a junta-controlled militia force.

In 1990, the SSA-N led by Sao Hso Ten signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese Army to find a political solution to conflicts with the junta. But the relationship between the SSA-N and the Burmese Army started to break down when the group was pressured to become a militia under junta command.

The junta had also pressured other ceasefire groups to bring themselves under junta control within BGFs with varying degrees of success. They included the Kachin Independence Organisation, United Wa State Army, National Democratic Alliance Army, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and New Mon State Party.


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