Myanmar's military rulers have returned weapons surrendered earlier this month by a faction of ethnic rebels, saying they would need to "defend themselves" against other insurgents.
Hundreds of small arms and dozens of heavy weapons and landmines were returned to the splinter group called the Shan State Army-South on Sunday, in a ceremony near the site of their surrender.
"They need to defend themselves. That's why the regional authorities gave the arms back to them," Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsann told reporters at the ceremony in Lecha township in southern Shan State, 640 kms north of Yangon.
"Before, they held their arms illegally to serve their organisation. But now they will hold their arms legally according to the law," he said.
Nearly 850 members of the SSA-South faction surrendered in early July, according to the military. Shan leaders have reportedly said that only a few dozen fighters surrendered.
The faction's leader Meing Sin insisted that 848 fighters had surrendered.
"They can come and see with their own eyes if they don't believe," he told reporters.
The Shan are the largest of seven major ethnic groups after the Burman majority and have long featured in the country's politics. The Shan State Army has battled Myanmar's government for decades.
The junta has tried to weaken the group by encouraging defections, creating an array of splinter groups such as the SSA-South and even smaller blocs that have traded allegiances over the years.
Collectively, the SSA and the various Shan factions are believed to have some 8,000 armed fighters.
The junta has signed ceasefires with 17 armed ethnic rebel groups but still battles the SSA and a handful of others.