Unidentified gunmen have abducted 50 men from four villages in Myanmar located outside of Shan state’s largest township of Lashio, residents said Monday, amid concerns by rights groups over “war crimes” committed by government troops in the region.
A woman from Kaungkha—one of the villages targeted—told RFA’s Myanmar Service that residents had fled in terror during the Nov. 26 raid and were unable to determine the identities of the gunmen in the chaos.
“They abducted people from our village—one of them has a wife who is the mother of two children and another has a pregnant wife with three kids,” the woman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The last one is a young man with two sons. We don’t know where [the men who were taken] are now.”
Kaungkha was among four villages attacked along the road leading to Namtu, a township located 52 kilometers (32 miles) northwest of Lashio. The road between the two townships has seen frequent clashes between Myanmar’s military and the ethnic Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) in recent weeks.
Other residents said they had compiled a list of around 50 people who had been abducted by the gunmen in the Nov. 26 raids, including some 30 men who were taken from the village of Ei-Naing.
They said that frequent raids in the area had led many villagers to abandon their homes to seek refuge in town centers such as Lashio in recent weeks, though they did not specify who was responsible for the attacks.
The SSA-N, which is the armed wing of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), was one of several armed ethnic groups that refused to enter into a so-called “nationwide cease-fire agreement” (NCA) that the government signed with eight rebel armies on Oct. 15.
Fighting resumed between the army and the SSA-N on Oct. 6, forcing an estimated 10,000 people to flee their homes in the central part of Shan state. The two sides had a cease-fire agreement in place from January 2012, but both have blamed each other for the outbreak of new fighting.
On the same day as the abductions in Shan state, a group of ethnic Shan civil society organizations meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, called on the international community to “break its silence on the war crimes” being committed by Myanmar government troops in central Shan state.
A statement issued by the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) said that since October, the military had “launched repeated air and ground missile attacks on densely populated civilian areas,” including from Nov. 9-12, when “fighter aircraft and artillery rained bombs on 6,000 civilians” in Mong Nawng township, as well as in Monghsu township, where more than “1,500 displaced villagers were sheltering.”
The attacks, and “abuses including shooting and rape of villagers,” have displaced more than 10,000 people from Ke See, Monghsu and Mong Nawng townships, it said, adding that there “has been little sign of aid from international agencies” in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon.
“Keeping silent about Naypyidaw’s latest attacks and war crimes is giving the green light to these atrocities,” human rights activist Nang Charm Tong said in the statement, which urged the international community to make any further engagement with the government contingent on an end to offensives in ethnic areas.
Fresh Kokang clashes
The report of abductions came as another armed ethnic group, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), clashed with government troops over the weekend in Laukkai township, in Shan state’s Kokang self-administered zone near the border with China, according to official media.
Soldiers from the MNDAA attacked government troops on patrol in Laukkai on Nov. 27 and later fled northeast towards the Chinese border when the troops returned fire, the military’s Myawady newspaper said, without providing details of any casualties.
A police major told The Myanmar Times that no one was killed in the attack.
The clash came just 10 days after the government ended a state of emergency in Laukkai on Nov. 17, citing a return of calm to the region. Martial law was first declared on Feb. 18, following an assault on the town by MNDAA forces a week earlier.
Tens of thousands of ethnic Kokang residents fled the area after the conflict erupted, many of whom crossed into China where they currently remain.
The MNDAA and two groups that have fought alongside it in Kokang—the Arakan Army (AA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—were not invited to sign the NCA by the government. Several other armed ethnic groups cited their exclusion as the reason they refused to enter into the pact.
Across the border in neighboring Kachin state, where clashes are ongoing between the military and the insurgent Kachin Independence Army (KIA), two ethnic Shan villagers were detained and tortured earlier this month by government troops who believed they were rebel soldiers, according to a recent report by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB).
The report cited the Civilian Protection Monitoring Group (CPMG), based in Kachin’s Bhamo district, as saying that the two men were taken into custody by government troops while on their way to a court in Mansi township and tortured under suspicion of belonging to the KIA.
CPMG said the troops “tied them up by the neck and hit them in the head with rifle butts, and stabbed them,” later separating them and attempting to “force them to confess to being KIA members by beating them and telling each man that they had killed the other.”
When the troops were unable to extract information about the KIA from the two, they ordered them to wash the blood off their faces and took them blindfolded into Mansi, CPMG said. The group provided DVB with photos showing extensive bruising and lacerations to their faces, necks and torsos.
According to CPMG, both Myanmar’s military and the KIA routinely seize locals under suspicion of acting as informants to either side, DVB said.
Reported by Kan Tha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.