The Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) agreed to withdraw troops north of a key highway on Tuesday after two days of talks with government negotiators aimed at addressing conflict which broke out in central Shan State on Oct. 6, leaving thousands of civilians displaced.

A member of the SSA-N told The Irrawaddy the armed group had agreed to withdraw troops from the north side of a highway between Mong Nawng and Kyethi townships following the Dec. 7-8 dialogue in Naypyidaw.

“We will withdraw our troops involved in confrontations with them [the Burma Army]. This is our first priority; to reduce tensions,” said Major Sai Phone Han of the SSA-N. “After this, we hope our IDPs [internally displaced persons] will be able to go home. This is our second priority.”

Fighting between the two sides has recurred since early October, with the Burma Army launching multiple offensives that included aerial support and heavy artillery fire. Between 6,000 and 10,000 civilians were forced to flee their homes to escape clashes which were reported in Mong Hsu, Kyethi and Mong Nawng townships.

The SSA-N rejected an order from the Burma Army late last month to withdraw from positions east of a motorway cutting through the three flashpoint townships, vowing to defend their Wan Hai headquarters in Kyethi Township.

“They told us at the meeting they will not conduct any more military operations if we agree to withdraw our troops,” Major Sai Phone Han said.

Sai Phone Han said the Burma Army would also be required to withdraw from select positions and refrain from establishing new bases.

Previous talks were held between a government delegation led by President’s Office Minister Aung Min and representatives of the Shan group’s political wing, the Shan State Progressive Party, on Nov. 23-24.

On the ground, tensions remain as the two sides maintain positions in close proximity. Despite a lull in fighting, displaced civilians remain wary of returning to their homes and paddy fields.

http://www.irrawaddy.com/burma/102545.html