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Briefing Papers

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As the number of clashes between the KIO/KIA and the Burma Army continues to decrease and political dialogue continues. The issue of the KIO’s smaller allies, specifically the Ta-ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army and the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF)-North, needs to be further addressed. These three groups have helped support the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in fighting, yet should a ceasefire be reached, their future remains uncertain.

The Ta-ang National Liberation Army

The Ta-ang National Liberation Army, which is a member of the UNFC, was originally created by remnants of the Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) after its ceasefire agreement with the Government in 1991. Originally known as the Palaung National Force it was formed on 12th of January 1963. By 1976, the PNF was reformed as the Palaung State Liberation Army (PSLA) under the leadership of Chairperson Tar Khon Taung. The PSLA finally signed a ceasefire on the 21 April 1991 and was disarmed on 29 April 2005.

After the cease-fire agreement was signed between the PSLA and SPDC, remnants of the PSLA remained at Manerplaw the Karen National Unions’s Headquarters. These units continued to fight with the Karen and other ethnic forces. The National Democratic Front supported the PSLA’s remaining units to form the PSLF on 12 January 1992 and they continued to mount joint operations against Government forces with the Wa National Organisation (WNO) on the Thai-Burma border.

In October 2009, the PSLF held its 3rd congress and formed the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). The TNLA was formed under the political wing of the PSLF. It started military activity in the Palaung area in 2011 with the training and support of the Kachin Independence Army. The PSLF Chairman is Tar Aik Phone and the TNLA’s Commander-in-Chief is Tar Hul Plang.

According to the PSLF its aims and Objectives are:

1.         To obtain freedom for all Ta’ang Nationals from oppression.

2.         To form Ta’ang full autonomy that has a guarantee for Democracy and human rights.

3.         To oppose and fight against dictatorship and any form of racial discrimination

4.         To attain national equality and self-determination

5.         To establish a genuine federal union that guarantees autonomy.

It is currently active in northern Shan State and claims that it is able to field 1,400 troops. There were originally five battalions but this was expanded to seven:

B. 112 - KutKhai Township

B 256 - Namsan Township

B. 478 - Nam Kham Township

B. 367 - Man Tong Township

B. 717 - Moe Mit in of Kyak Mae.

B. 101 and B. 527 are special battalions[1]

 Figure 1 – Ta-Ang Area - Map Source: The Burden of War, Palaung Women’s Organisation

According to its founder and Chairman, Tar Aik Phone, the group wants a nationwide ceasefire, political dialogue, and self-rule of Ta-ang areas as part of a greater Shan State.[2] Although the TNLA has had an unofficial meeting with U Aung Min, on 9 November 2012, on the side-lines of a UNFC meeting, the Government has not made any further attempt to bring the group to the negotiating table primarily due to its strength. As a result the TNLA is currently rethinking its position in relation to the Kachin conflict and the future of the organisation.

The Arakan Army

The Arakan Army in Kachin State was created by a number of Arakanese who left Arakan State to be trained by the Kachin Independence Army in 2008. Led by its Commander-in-Chief Tun Mra Naing and his deputy Dr. Nyo Twan Aung the group has about four hundred to five hundred troops.[3] Its main aims are:

1.    Self-determination for the multi-ethnic Arakanese population.

2.    Safeguard national identity and cultural heritage.

3.    Promote national dignity and Arakanese interests.[4]

The group, after training, had originally planned to return to Arakan State and fight for self-determination, however, with the outbreak of fighting in Kachin State in June 2011, they were unable to return. As a result they took up arms against the Burma Army in support of the KIA.

The Arakan Army in Kachin State is not affiliated with the Arakan Liberation Party/Arakan Army actually in Arakan State and along the Thai Burma Border. It is much stronger and more battle conditioned. Consequently, the Arakan Liberation Party, in what appears to be an attempt to have the Arakan Army join it and thus strengthen its bargaining position with the Government has, in a 4 June statement, said:

. . . the Arakanese people today need a strong modern Army to protect the indigenous people, the land and our natural resources. Without a stronger force we cannot achieve our goal.[5]

Such a force is needed due to the fact that:

The land of Arakan is today witnessing the conflict of interest under the deadlock of Burmanization and Islamization which has finally threatened the existence of the Arakanese people.[6]

The Statement was made despite the fact that the ALP signed a State-level agreement with the Government in April 2012, which also includes a non-cessation clause. It remains unclear as to whether the Arakan Army wants to, or can, join together with the Arakan Liberation Party. The Arakan Liberation Party itself appears to still be pursuing the goal of self-determination, and as a result may compromise its own peace process.

Should there be a Kachin ceasefire the role of the Arakan Army, which lacks political objectives and appears to be grounded in overt nationalism and the desire for self-determination, will be questionable. As Dr. Nyo Twan Aung notes:

Arakan Army is only an armed group, not a political party, fighting against the government for freedom of Arakanese people.[7]

The group’s future remains unclear. It is unlikely that the Burma Army would allow five hundred armed Arakanese troops to make the journey from Kachin State to Arakan State. In addition, current religious and communal tension in Arakan are unlikely to be helped by such a move.

The Arakan Army has been able to swell it ranks with labourers from the Jade mines in Phakant and, as a result, will continue to grow as long as the Kachin Independence Army continues to train them. According to Dr. Nyo Twan Aung there have been eleven batches of Arakan trainees since 2008. The last, held in April 2013, consisted of 82 Arakanese solders including three females.

With little hope of being able to return to Arakan State and considering their service given to the Kachin conflict, the KIO needs to find a viable solution to the Arakan Army issue.

The All Burma Students Democratic Front – Northern Brigade

The All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF) was formed after the mass uprising in 1988. While many of the Students fled to the Thai-Burma border, a number also went east to Kachin territory. Its main aims are:

1.    release all political prisoners

2.    stop offensives in Kachin state and start political dialogue

3.    nationwide ceasefire

4.    build mutual trust and respect

5.    all inclusive dialogue

In 1994, the KIO signed a cease-fire agreement with the military Government and the ABSDF left the area in 1995. However, after the beginning of renewed conflict in Kachin State, the group reformed with members who had remained living on the Chinese-Burma Border. They opened a new headquarters at Lahkum Hill in Shait Yang, near the KIO’s headquarters at Laiza on Nov 1, 2011 and allied itself with the KIO.[8] It is estimated that the ABSDF North, which is led by La Seng,[9] has about 200 troops and has been heavily supported with weapons and supplies by the KIO.

The ABSDF - North is nominally under the control of ABSDF Chairman Than Khe and the ABSDF central have held four rounds of peace talks with the Government. Despite these meetings, the northern brigade has continued to fight the Burma Army in support of its Kachin allies. This has raised questions as to if the ABSDF central has full control over the northern brigade, an allegation the central denies noting that:

The units of ABSDF are of the same group. . .[10]

Nonetheless, there appears to be a number of anomalies in the actions of the two groups and it highly unlikely that even if the ABSDF central found an accommodation with the Government the northern group would stop fighting should the Kachin conflict continue. What is more important, however, is the role the ABSDF would play should there be a Kachin ceasefire. 


The ethnic situation in the country in relation to the peace process has improved, yet major obstacles still remain. Many armed ethnic actors have called for a ‘Panglong style dialogue’ which the Government has suggested will happen shortly. This all-inclusive dialogue offers armed groups a number of opportunities to finally realise their aspirations. Nevertheless, a number of other armed ethnic actors will need to rethink their positions. This political dialogue will exclude some actors, either because they have no political aims or are much smaller and considered inconsequential. While the Ta-ang have made clear there aims, the future of the Arakan Army and the ABSDF-North remains firmly in the hands of the Kachin.


[1] Email correspondence with Tar Aik Phone 28 June 2013

[2] Personal Conversation with Tar Aik Phone 24 June 2013

[3] ‘Far From Home’, Simon Roughneen, The Irrawaddy, December 28, 2012

[4] ‘Deciphering Myanmar’s Peace Process’, BNI, January 2013

[5] ‘ALP urges for a stronger National Army for Arakanese’, Narinjara, 7 June, 2013

[6] Ibid

[7] ‘Arakan Army Basic Military Training Concludes in KIO Controlled Area’, Narinjara, 8 April, 2013

[8] ‘ABSDF commemorates 23rd anniversary and opens northern command headquarter’, Kachinland News http://kachinlandnews.com/?p=20799 accessed 27 June 2013

[9] http://kachinlandnews.com/?p=22141 accessed 27 June 2013

[10] ‘Student army leader denies split in group’, Eleven, 21 December 2012

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