Monday, July 24, 2017

RCSS faces landmine claims

Ethnic Palaung civilians fleeing fighting in Namkham township have accused forces of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) of laying landmines around their village and looting their homes.

Palaung children sit in the Mong Wee IDP camp in Namhkam township on February 16. Photo: Maung Zaw / The Myanmar TimesPalaung children sit in the Mong Wee IDP camp in Namhkam township on February 16. Photo: Maung Zaw / The Myanmar Times

IDPs from Law Naw spoke to The Myanmar Times in a makeshift camp set up about 10 kilometres from their homes in the village of Mong Wee. They said RCSS forces fighting the Ta’Ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) arrived in Law Naw on February 7. After the TNLA withdrew, the RCSS soldiers took money and food from local people and laid landmines, the villagers said.

“We fled from our homes once the clashes occurred. Two days after we left we went back to the village to see the situation. At that time we saw that members of the RCSS had entered villagers’ houses and were taking property. When we asked a lieutenant to give back our properties, we got back half of what they took,” said Ko Kyaw Naing from Law Naw.

RCSS spokesperson Colonel Sai Hla, speaking to The Myanmar Times on February 10, denied claims by the TNLA that RCSS forces had occupied Law Naw. He also denied the Shan group had seized civilians.

Ko Zin Moe said in Mong Wee that he had been seized by the RCSS after the February 7 clashes and held for two days, accused of having contact with the TNLA.

“They arrested me and asked about TNLA troop numbers and their location. While I was arrested, I heard the RCSS/SSA tell the Tatmadaw to come to the village,” Ko Zin Moe said.

Tatmadaw troops are currently positioned in Law Naw village, and villagers say clashes have continued. The RCSS also denies TNLA accusations that it is helping or fighting alongside government forces.

Ma Nan Moe, an RCSS liaison officer in Kyaukme township, said yesterday it was not possible that the RCSS would cooperate with the Tatmadaw in fighting against the TNLA. She declined further comment on the situation in Namkham township.

IDPs in Mong Wee said they went back to their village to ask the RCSS to release Ko Zin Moe and it was then they realised that landmines had been laid nearby.

“The reason we can say that landmines were planted outside the village is that we saw a buffalo which had been killed by a blast. Then we were sure there were mines,” said Law Naw resident Ko Naing Htay.

One of the provisions of the “nationwide ceasefire agreement” signed by the RCSS with the government and Tatmadaw last October was a ban on use of landmines.

Refugee women prepare lunch yesterday at a temporary IDP camp at Kanbawza Shan Kyaung Kyee monastery in Kyaukme, Shan state. Photo Kaung Htet / The Myanmar TimesRefugee women prepare lunch yesterday at a temporary IDP camp at Kanbawza Shan Kyaung Kyee monastery in Kyaukme, Shan state. Photo Kaung Htet / The Myanmar Times

Villagers said clashes between the TNLA and RCSS/SSA were happening each night in the mountains of Pan Khar and Lwe Huam near Mong Wee.

About 1200 IDPs are packed into Mong Wee, down from over 2000 earlier after many left to find shelter with relatives in Mandalay and Namtu townships. Meals of rice have been limited to two a day so that existing stocks could last a week.

But local organisations and refugees said on February 16 that supplies were close to exhaustion.

“If the clashes continue, we have no hope of going back home. Then we would all face difficulties for food,” said U Htwe Naing, a Palaung villager.

Some rice and vegetables were provided by residents from Mong Wee village and the Ta’aung Cultural Association. But in a few days those provisions will be gone. “We have tried to buy more rice with the money we have,” said association chair U Mai Hla Shwe.

While it is only 48 kilometres (30 miles) from Namkham town to the camp, transportation of supplies is difficult as the road is in poor condition. Most people in the camp are Palaung, but there are also some Shan and Kachin villagers. 


Translation by Thiri Min Htun