Monday, July 24, 2017

2000 civilians reportedly pinned down by conflict in northern Shan State

Ongoing hostilities between the Tatmadaw and four ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State have left about 2000 people trapped in the Hai Kaung area, near the Sino-Myanmar border between the towns of Pang Sai and Mong Koe.

“About 2000 IDPs [internally displaced persons] are trapped in a paddy plot alongside the river that divides China and Myanmar, according to the information our staff received. They left their village because of the clashes,” said U Gum Sha Aung, secretary of a group of nine civil society organisations in Kachin and northern Shan states known as the Joint Strategy Team.

Colonel Mong Aik Kyaw, a spokesperson for the four ethnic armed groups calling themselves the Northern Alliance-Burma, said fighting continued yesterday, with clashes in at least five different locations including Mong Koe, Pang Sai and the 105 Mile border trade zone, wherbme the alliance launched an initial offensive on November 20.

The four groups involved in the attack were the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Kachin Independence Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army.

Sai Loon Nao, secretary of the Shan Youth Organisation (Muse), said he too had heard word of trapped villagers along the border.

“That news is spreading among the locals. The trapped villagers at Hai Kaung, they can’t enter the China side and can’t cross the Pang Sai-Mong Koe [road], where clashes have happened recently,” he said.

U Gum Sha Aung said the affected civilians have been left vulnerable, in need of food and shelter.

“We are trying to contact and support them or get them out,” he said.

Col Mong Aik Kyaw said he did not know whether a group of civilians had been pinned down in the fighting, but added, “We always let the villagers out when we get a chance. Never are they kept in conflict zones.”

Muse district administrator U Kyaw Kyaw Tun said his office was also unable to confirm that villagers had been trapped.

“The IDPs from Muse town have gone back to their villages because the clashes’ intensity is down,” he said.

Another Muse district administrator, U Zaw Min, said a local tally of casualties put the number of civilian and government security personnel fatalities at 16, with 50 people injured.

About 750 IDPs remain sheltered temporarily at monasteries in Muse town, and about 3500 people are believed to have taken refuge across the border in China, which has put its military on high alert.

“The Tatmadaw is reinforcing its military strength and the Chinese military is also drilling along its side of the border,” Sai Loon Nao said. “The fighting is going to continue although the situation is calm in town.”

Following a “2+2” meeting of members of the ministries of foreign affairs and defence with their Chinese counterparts on November 25 in Nay Pyi Taw, the two sides released a joint statement addressing the recent uptick in conflict along the border.

“Both sides expressed their desire for the prevalence of rule of law and security along Myanmar-China borders, and the Chinese side expressed its hope for speedy solution of current tension in the northern part of Myanmar and to restore normalcy in the border areas as early as possible,” it read.

The Joint Strategy Team has urged all “warring parties to fully respect international humanitarian law, which provides specific measures to protect civilians in armed conflicts”.

The team continued, “An immediate cessation of hostilities must take place. A peaceful solution to the conflicts in Myanmar is a critical priority for the future of the country and its people. This should be based in open political dialogues that address the long-standing issues which are at the origin of this conflict.”

The Northern Alliance has said its initial offensive was “inevitable” in the face of months-long aggression from the Tatmadaw in territories held by the groups in northern Shan and Kachin states.

A response to the November 20 assault and its aftermath from the Union-level government came on November 23, in the form of a statement from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her capacity as chair of the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre.

“At a time when people of Myanmar are in process of striving for national reconciliation and peace that had remained elusive to them, it is extremely disappointing and saddening that these incidents are instigated,” read her statement.

“The conflict will not end if the Tatmadaw thinks to solve things by militarily reinforcing,” said General Tar Gyoke Ja, vice chair of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. “We want a federal Union. We want peace. The Tatmadaw is blocking our way to the peace table.”

He added, “We hope that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the government will work it out one way or another. But they didn’t speak out a word for the [previous Tatmadaw] offensives in the area of Kachin and Shan states. We made an attack operations in order to change the war front. Peace negotiations are the answer to all conflict and clashes.”