Fresh clashes between Myanmar’s army and armed ethnic insurgents in Shan state have forced residents to flee their villages and a local political party to suggest that voting in the general elections scheduled for early November be delayed in the volatile part of eastern Myanmar.
Villagers from Kutkai township in the Muse district of Shan state have been leaving their homes for the last two days after new fights broke out between army brigades 99 and 88 and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has troops in the area, a local villager said Friday.
“We hear noise from the firing of heavy weapons all the time,” villager Bout Jar told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “Villagers are afraid and can’t go to their farmland and animals.”
She said she did not know the number of villagers who had left the area. There have been no reports of casualties from the new clashes.
The Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), whose constituency includes all areas except self-autonomous areas in Shan state as well as townships in Kachin and Kayah states and northern Sagaing region, suggested Friday that voting for the Nov. 8 elections be delayed in the volatile areas of Shan state until fighting dies down.
The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), which is fielding about 160 candidates in Kachin, Shan and Kayah states and Sagaing and Mandalay regions, said it would reject the SNDP’s suggestion, because the results of the election are necessary for bringing about peace in the area.
The Union Election Commission (UEC), which oversees the polls, is collecting more information to decide whether to postpone voting in dangerous areas, said UEC director Sai Kyaw Thu.
“We will think about it if we get enough information,” he said. “But because only one party has suggested it, we need to get more information from relevant state or division governments. We also need to know the recommendations of the relevant election security subcommittees and political parties in these areas.”
Last week, the UEC announced a list of about 600 villages where voting has been cancelled because of ongoing conflicts, most of which are located in Shan and Kachin states.
Despite the ongoing fighting in Shan state, about 6,000 people in Taunggyi and Lashio on Friday celebrated the signing of the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with eight rebel groups, following similar events in Sisaing, Pindaya, Namhsan and Thipaw townships last week.
“We’re celebrating this because we can build greater trust in one another, and soon peace will come to people in conflict areas, and we can move towards political dialogue after signing the NCA,” said Nan Sing, a member of the Kachin Literature and Culture Organization.
Myanmar’s government signed the long-awaited NCA with eight armed ethnic groups on Oct. 15 in a bid to end decades of civil war in the transitioning Southeast Asian nation.
The KIA, however, refused to join the agreement.
Other clashes in Shan state
Fighting between the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), the armed wing of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), and the government army since Oct. 6 has displaced about 3,000 residents.
A bomb blast from the hostilities on Wednesday injured four civilians in the town of Monghsu.
That same day, Than Lwin Myint, deputy director of the Shan State Election Commission, told RFA that polling stations may be relocated from conflict areas in northern Shan state ahead of general elections.
The SSPP, which also opted out of the NCA, has suggested the offensive was part of a bid by the military to force it to sign the peace deal.
The UEC has said voting will proceed as planned in areas under the control of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), another ethnic Shan group which was among the eight ethnic armies that signed the NCA.
Fighting between government troops and the RCSS’s armed wing, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), had erupted last month, prompting the Shan group to warn political parties against campaigning in the 16 townships where is was active.
Reported by Kan Tha, Thinn Thiri, and Khun Yazar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.