Ethnic Ta’ang activists have accused the military of detaining more than 100 villagers in northern Shan State this month on suspicion of supporting the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
Several thousand people have been displaced by fighting between the TNLA and the Tatmadaw, with local organisations describing military operations to root out suspected TNLA sympathisers village by village.
Activists said they had compiled a list of more than 100 villagers detained between March 6 and 18 from settlements in the three townships of Kutkai, Namhsan and Kyaukme following offensives by the Tatmadaw.
U Khan Myint, chair of the Ta’ang Literature and Culture Organisation, said villagers in Kaung Lain in Kutkai were asked to attend a Tatmadaw meeting on March 9 and 24 were subsequently arrested.
“They haven’t been honest with the villagers. They said it was just a meeting of the village and then they detained people. Locals suffer from feelings of insecurity,” U Khan Myint added.
“We went to the battalion commander [of Brigade 66] to ask for the release of the villagers. He replied they will free 13 villagers but have to investigate the others,” he told The Myanmar Times.
Villagers released by the Tatmadaw were said to have been asked questions such as “Do you have contact with the TNLA? Do you support and how do you support the TNLA?’’ Some said they were beaten while interrogated.
“These are illegal acts against the people. Such actions make people feel insecure. Local people are living in fear,” said U Mong Oak Khine, a Ta’ang activist who ran in the 2015 elections.
Mong Thein Win, a teacher and Ta’ang youth activist, also said people were beaten on suspicion of having contact with ethnic armed groups.
“Villagers fear every armed group. No one dares to reject what armed groups demand. The Tatmadaw is intentionally targeting locals for persecution,” he said.
The accusations could not be independently verified. However, the Tatmadaw has employed a similar strategy in Rakhine State, where dozens have been detained and put on trial under the Unlawful Associations Act for alleged links to the Arakan Army.
Colonel Myat Min Oo of the Tatmadaw’s “true news unit” declined to give specific information on the reported detentions in northern Shan State. However, he said that if it was true that soldiers had committed illegal acts then action would be taken against them according to the law.
According to information collected by the Ta’ang Student and Youth Organisation, 20 villagers were detained from Ngot Nga in Kutkai township on March 6, and 16 were later released.
On March 10, a total of 37 people were detained in Pan Lot and Kwinslan villages in Kyaukme township, and two in Anaunkkain in Namhsan.
A further 64 villagers were said to be detained on March 16 in four villages in Kyaukme, named as Par Lain, Pan Lone, Kyauk Phyu and Kwinslan.
The organisation says it is still trying to collect the latest information on arrests and releases.
U Robert San Aung, a prominent human rights lawyer, said such mass detentions were “disgracing the Tatmadaw”.
“Tatmadaw leaders should control the battalions and commanders who have committed lawless activities that can ruin the Tatmadaw’s image. If they [battalion commanders] have suspicions about people, then it is the job of police officers” to investigate, he said.