Friday, August 18, 2017

Tatmadaw, SSA-N fighting displaces 400 civilians

Fighting between the military and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) in Thibaw/Hsipaw township, Shan State, has displaced as many as 400 villagers over the past two days, according to a local MP.

Sai Htoo, a spokesperson for the Shan State Progressive Party, the political wing of the SSA-N, yesterday confirmed the fighting, but could not say exactly how many troops were involved in the clashes.

“In Hsipaw, we have received reports that fighting has happened, but we don’t know yet which troops’ unit exactly. It is not serious fighting. Two groups of troops met and had a small fight, as far as I know,” said Sai Htoo.

According to Shan State parliamentarian Sai Kham Aung (Shan Nationalities League for Democracy; Hsipaw 2), about 400 civilians have fled the hostilities, leaving Nar Lot village in Hsipaw township to take up refuge at the Nar Ma Kaw and Nar Ohn monasteries.

“Yesterday I went to Nar Ma Kaw [monastery], where villagers have sheltered. There were about 50 in Nar Ma Kaw and 240 in Nar Ohn. This morning more arrived, bringing the total refugees to 130 in Nar Ma Kaw,” Sai Kham Aung said yesterday.

With the corn harvesting season under way, some worry that the latest fighting will once again pose a threat to livelihoods in the area. When The Myanmar Times travelled to Shan State earlier this year, civilians in conflict zones told of how having to flee to safety had disrupted planting-harvest cycles and their children’s schooling.

“If fighting happens during the reaping season for corn for the Shan, the reaping season for tea leaves for the Ta’ang, it affects the livelihoods of people. The education of children isn’t stable because of the conflict,” said Mong Aik Tun, a Ta’ang youth leader and teacher.

Earlier this month activists took to the streets in Myitkyina, Kachin State, to protest ongoing hostilities between the Tatmadaw and a handful of ethnic armed groups in Kachin and northern Shan states. Elsewhere civil society, youth and religious groups have organised similar anti-war campaigns.

The campaigners are urging the military to halt offensives in ethnic regions, some of which have continued or reflared in the aftermath of the so-called 21st-century Panglong Conference, the government’s signature initial foray into Myanmar’s peace process.

An SSA-N colonel confirmed that the Tatmadaw launched an offensive against the Shan armed group in northern Shan State’s Lashio district at the end of August, days before the Panglong Conference was convened.

Over the past year, thousands of civilians have been displaced by conflict in Shan State, as the Tatmadaw has engaged in hostilities with the SSA-N, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Kachin Independence Army.

All three are non-signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement.

According to a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, nearly 10,700 people were living in IDP camps in northern Shan State as of August 1, though the report did not cover Hsipaw township.