Fighting in Myanmar’s Shan State Forces Hundreds to Flee to Namtu Township

Villagers seek shelter in a monastery to escape clashes between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and government military.

Myanmar children who fled their villages with their parents to escape fighting between the Ta'ang National Liberation Army and government military take refuge in a monastery in Namtu township in Myanmar's northern Shan State, Aug. 9, 2017.

Fighting between government troops and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army in Myanmar’s war-torn northern Shan state has forced nearly 300 villagers to flee to safety in Namtu township ahead of a planned visit by the government’s human rights commission, residents afftected by the hostilities said on Wednesday.

The villagers left their homes when hostilities between the Myanmar army and the TNLA intensified near Aukmanwei village in Namhsan township in the ethnic Palaung self-administered zone, they said.

About 100 residents fled Khay Khin and Man Wel villages after artillery shells fell there, and 100 more left their homes on Wednesday, they said.

The villagers told RFA’s Myanmar Service that another 80 people were behind them as they made their way to Namtu, where they have sought shelter in a monastery.

About 400 ethnic Lisu and Kachin refugees have already sought shelter in Namtu since December 2016 because of fighting in the region between the Myanmar military and ethnic rebels.

The TNLA said seven different clashes occurred between its troops and the Myanmar army’s 77th infantry battalion on Tuesday, and there were reports that fighting also took place in Myine and Kyauk Phyu villages in Namhsan township, the online new service the Democratic Voice of Burma reported.

The government military closed off Mantong township, the other townships in the Palaung self-administered zone, after TNLA soldiers ambushed one of its convoys on Aug. 5

The TNLA has been fighting the government army and another ethnic armed group — the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) — in Shan state since late November 2015, about six weeks after the signing of a nationwide cease-fire agreement between the government and eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armed groups.

The TNLA was excluded from signing the accord because of its ongoing hostilities with Myanmar’s armed forces.

Rights commission postpones visit

The latest round of clashes prompted the eight-member Myanmar National Human Rights Commission on Wednesday to postpone a trip to northern Shan state to discuss prison reform and security issues, a committee member said.

The committee was scheduled to visit a Namtu refugee camp on Thursday.

“There was a major skirmish last Friday near Mantong village and sporadic clashes occurred during the weekend, so the police can't dare be responsible for our safety,” said committee member Yu Lwin Aung. “They are worried that the TNLA might do something to us, so we had to cancel our plans.”

On Tuesday, the commissioners visited orphanages and senior citizens’ homes in Lashio, the largest town in northern Shan state, and inspected prison conditions and jail cells in Thibaw, he said.

Yu Lwin Aung said there were few human rights violations at the places they visited based on what the commission members saw and heard.

He also met with three domestic journalists detained in Thibaw Prison, who have been charged under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act for being involved with an “illegal” organization.

The three journalists — Lawi Weng of the online journal The Irrawaddy and Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) — were arrested by the government military on June 26 for covering an illegal drug-burning event by the TNLA in Namhsan.

The Myanmar military accused them of having ties to the TNLA.

The journalists have been denied bail and face up to three years in prison if convicted.

After interviewing the three men separately about the case, Yu Lwin Aung said they had not broken the law according to information they provided, The Irrawaddy reported.

Yu Lwin Aung said he would submit his findings to other commission members who will collectively determine their position on the case and decide which government ministry or office they will report it to, The Irrawaddy said.

Reported by Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.