Residents of a Myanmar border town who fled to China to escape fighting between four ethnic armed groups and the government military in northern Shan state are returning home at the urging of authorities trying to restore stability in the area, town administrators and local residents said Wednesday.
About 3,000 Myanmar citizens fled across the border after the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Arakan Army (AA) staged a coordinated attack on military outposts, police stations, and a trade center in Muse and Kutkai townships. Ten people were killed and 33 others were injured during fighting on Nov. 20-22.
“About 700 people came back to Muse yesterday, and 106 others have returned home today because the situation where they live is becoming stable,” said Sai Khein Kham, a Muse district administration department official.
All markets and shops have reopened, and banks are open half a day, according to department officials.
As of Wednesday, about 3,700 people displaced by the hostilities remained in Muse, which sits on the Shweli River across from Ruili in southwestern China’s Yunnan province, they said.
Government soldiers and local militias are overseeing security in the town, they said.
Some local residents report that the fighting has not ended.
“We have heard the sound of opening fire every 10 minutes since yesterday, but not the direct fighting,” said a Myanmar man who had fled into Chinese territory.
The displaced persons staying in Muse said they are concerned about the stability of the situation there.
One woman said she feared that soldiers would force her sons to become their porters as long as her family remained in the town.
“I am worried only for my two adult sons that they not be taken to be porters,” Ma Aye Khine told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Another woman, Than Nyunt, said she wants to return home but fears getting caught up in the clashes.
“I don’t want to be here because my health is not good; I had a stroke,” she said. “I left my home because I was very afraid of being affected by the fighting.”
Meanwhile, local authorities are continuing to encourage residents not to abandon homes over rumors of an attack.
Zaw Min, an administrative official in Muse, said the town’s general administrative department will announce any further news about the situation and work with other departments on security matters if need be.
“Because of rumors, people are fleeing their homes,” he said. “Because there is no one at home, the houses can be burglarized and burned. That’s why we have requested that people not leave home. The town’s security is becoming stable.”
Call to sign NCA
The hostilities prompted State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi to issue a written appeal on Wednesday urging the ethnic militias in the northern part of Shan state to sign the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA).
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, has made peace and national reconciliation the main goal of the civilian National League for Democracy government.
Eight ethnic armed groups signed the accord in October 2015, but the AA, MMNDA and TNLA were excluded because of their ongoing clashes with the army.
“In order to immediately end the armed conflicts in northeast Shan state, I strongly urge the armed groups to join the government’s peace process by signing the NCA,” Aung San Suu Kyi wrote in her capacity as chairperson of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center.
She also encouraged the rebel groups to work with civil society to find ways to strengthen the monitoring mechanism that will ensure that the cease-fire accord is not violated, work towards the country’s goal of peace, and cooperate with stakeholders to take part on equal terms in the next round of the government’s peace talks in February 2017.
China, which has provided shelter and medical services to those who have fled across the border in recent days, said on Tuesday that it will continue to support Myanmar’s peace process.
The Kachin Independence organization, the political wing of the KIA, said Wednesday that the recent fighting in Shan state was a “limited war” that was not meant to derail the government’s efforts to achieve national reconciliation.
A statement issued by the KIO said the KIA, MNDAA, TNLA and AA have engaged in the limited war in response to offensives by national army soldiers.
The KIO also said it will be very careful not to harm the interests of the people with the new hostilities.
Reported by Kan Tha, Ye Htet, and Aung Thein Kha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.