Despite negotiations in February meant to diffuse tensions between the Tatmadaw [Burma army] and the New Mon State Party (NMSP), Mon soldiers were forced to abandon the position on March 2. The seizure brings to three the number of checkpoints that the Tatmadaw has occupied since an unsanctioned military parade conducted by the NMSP on February 12.
Thursday’s seizure was of a 10-year-old checkpoint in Htee Pho Naing Village, which is located in Kyarinnseikkyi Township. The checkpoint is in a strategic NMSP-occupied area of Karen State and connects the Mon town of Mudon to several villages on the road to the Thai border.
“We removed our checkpoint at Htee Pho Naing Village without incident on March 2 after we were told by LIB [Light Infantry Battalion] No. 283 to do so,” said Nai Mon Chan Dein, the executive of NMSP’s Mawlamyine (Moulmein) District.
The two other checkpoints, both seized on February 14, are located on the road from Thanbyuzayat to Three Pagoda Pass on the Thai-Burma border.
The three seizures are thought to be retribution for an armed parade that NMSP conducted on the 70th Mon National Day on February 12. The parade was considered provocative because the Mon State Minister of Security and Border Affairs had, for the first time, specifically forbidden NMSP from holding an armed parade.
To some, however, the seizures are meant to pressure NMSP to join the national peace process.
At a meeting between the NMSP and the Southeast Command of the Tatmadaw on February 16, the latter seemed more interested to talk about the peace process than the parade. Tatmadaw representatives pushed the Mon group to join the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), which most of Burma’s other armed groups have joined, and to take part in an upcoming national peace conference.
While the checkpoint seizures received less attention at the meeting, the Tatmadaw representatives did agree to return one of the seized checkpoints, known as Two Plum Tree Gate, to the NMSP.
That promise remains unfulfilled, says Nai Seik Chan, an officer of NMSP’s Thanbyuzayat Liaison Office. “They continue to operate the base and we have received no information about when we will be able to reoccupy it,” he said.
The NMSP signed a bilateral ceasefire with the then government in 1995 but is one of several armed ethnic parties that have refused to sign the NCA. Only those groups that have signed the NCA will be allowed to participate in the upcoming Union Peace Conference — 21st Century Panglong.