Monday, July 24, 2017

Village torched as hundreds flee Shan State fighting: report

Details are emerging of fighting involving the Tatmadaw and two ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State which has forced several hundred villagers to flee their homes, some reportedly torched along with stores of rice and corn by government forces.

Information is sketchy as clashes have occurred in remote areas across at least three townships close to the border with China, with local NGOs struggling to locate displaced civilians to provide aid.

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which the government barred from joining the “nationwide” ceasefire accord in October, says it has been attacked by forces of the Tatmadaw and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS).

The RCSS, one of eight ethnic armed groups to sign the ceasefire pact, denies it is assisting the Tatmadaw and accuses the TNLA of initiating attacks on its forces.

Mark Cutts, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar, said that international and national organisations had reported fighting between the TNLA and the RCSS in Namkham township since the first week of December, with 340 people displaced from Ho Pan village to Mong Wee village.

“Those displaced are staying at the Culture and Literacy Building in Mong Wee village. The Shan State government and private donors provided rice, cash and other basic food items on December 10,” he said.

Separate fighting between the military and the TNLA in Mong Yu Lay and Pan Lawt villages in Kutkai township, northern Shan State, had forced some 300 people to move temporarily to Nant Phet Kar village. However, according to local NGOs, all those displaced returned to their homes again over the weekend.

“The UN and partners are following the situation closely and stand ready to provide further assistance should this be required,” Mr Cutts said.

Lway Poe Ngeal, spokesperson of the Ta’ang Women’s Organisation, said they had received information that residents of three villages had fled to Nant Phet Kar but exact numbers were hard to confirm as some villagers were still hiding in the forests.

The latest fighting in northern Shan State follows Tatmadaw offensives, including air strikes, in central Shan State against troops from the Shan State Progress Party, which refused to join the ceasefire pact. Foreign observers say the Tatmadaw is pursuing a strategy of gaining territory and putting pressure on the United Wa State Army, the largest of the ethnic armed groups, which runs a quasi-independent fiefdom on the border with China.

The Shan Human Rights Foundation yesterday accused the Tatmadaw of pursuing “scorched earth tactics”.

It released a detailed report of clashes in mid-November between the military and the TNLA in an ethnic Palaung village in Namtu township, which it said resulted in Tatmadaw soldiers burning down half the houses in deserted Pang Karng, some 48 kilometres (30 miles) northeast of Namtu.

The rights group said the army forced a local farmer, 37-year-old Mai Aik La, to act as a guide. His body with bullet wounds was later found in the cemetery by villagers returning on December 4 to check their properties. They also found the bodies of four Tatmadaw soldiers.

The group said the fighting began on November 13 when about 150 soldiers of Division 88 arrived from the direction of Lashio. All of the approximately 170 residents of the village, except for the local Buddhist monk, had fled to hide in the forest nearby.

“After the fighting died down, the Burmese troops stationed themselves in and around the village, occupying a disused Burma Army camp near the temple. On November 14, they began setting fire to the houses in the village. They told the monk they wanted to punish the villagers for supporting the TNLA. The monk begged them not to burn down all the houses. That day, they burned down 14 of the 35 houses in the village, including the house of the village headman, Loong Jarm,” the rights group said.

Rice and corn stores were also destroyed. The soldiers allegedly stayed in the village until November 29 and torched one more house with a large store of rice before they left.

The Shan Human Rights Foundation said villagers do not want to return and have started rebuilding their village about 1 mile away.

The Tatmadaw could not be reached for comment yesterday.