The Myanmar military has closed all entry and exit points in Mantong township in the country’s war-torn northern Shan state following an ambush by an ethnic armed group on a national army convoy, a local official said Tuesday.
It is unknown whether there were any casualties in the Aug. 5 attack in Mantong, one of the two townships in the Palaung self-administered zone overseen by the ethnic Palaung, or Ta’ang, people — a Mon–Khmer ethnic minority found in Shan state. The zone’s other township is Namhsan.
Ethnic militias, including the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), have been engaged in periodic clashes with the Myanmar military in volatile Shan state.
“Only the entry point was closed in the past few days, but today the exit points were also closed,” said Thein Zaw, a member of the Palaung Self-autonomous Administrative Committee.
“People are having difficulties because of the closures, and some cannot even leave to get their basic supplies,” he said, adding that many of Mantong’s residents work on tea plantations outside Mantong and that some must travel to other towns for medical treatment.
A Myanmar army officer from Light Infantry Division 77, which is in charge of the town’s security, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the soldiers do not want the closures to affect the movement of residents, but they have no other choice.
“We don’t want to restrict their movements, but they [the rebels] are taking residents as new recruits — one person from each household — and some complied out of fear,” said the officer who declined to be named.
“So it seems every house has a rebel, and they have become informers about our movements,” he said.
TNLA battalion 434 has been engaged in hostilities with the national army’s Light Infantry Division 77 in the Palaung self-administered zone in recent days, according to information on the website of the Palaung State Liberation Front, the TNLA’s political wing.
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 (NCA) 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.
The clashes have forced thousands of residents to flee their homes in northern Shan state and seek shelter in Buddhist monasteries.
The TNLA is also a member of the Northern Alliance of four ethnic militias that launched coordinated attacks on Nov. 20 on 10 government and military targets in Shan state. The other members of the alliance are the Arakan Army (AA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
Reported by Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.