Thousands of refugees fled Mong Kung township in Myanmar’s troubled Shan State as fighting broke out between government forces and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) over the weekend.
According to a spokesman for the SSA-S, the fighting broke out when Myanmar army units attacked a drug-rehabilitation camp managed by local villagers in an area under their control.
“We did not deploy troops at the camp as it is managed by local villagers,” SSA spokesman Lt. Col. Sai Mein told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “They came and attacked us on the night of October 1, and then they got more troops to attack us again.”
Sai Mein accused the Myanmar military of releasing “criminals” held in the rehabilitation camp, but it is unclear what precipitated the attack.
Officials with the government and the Myanmar military failed to reply to RFA requests to comment on the attack.
Sai Mein told RFA that the attack is a violation of the “nationwide cease-fire agreement” (NCA) that is part of the country’s bid to end decades of civil war that has bedeviled the Southeast Asian nation.
Sai Thureain Oo, a Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) central executive committee member, told RFA that the SNLD placed about 2,000 refugees in monasteries near the Tonlaw village, but that the refugees need food, clothing and blankets.
Sai Aung Myint Oo, of the Shan Youth Organization, said the organization had been contacted by about 1,500 refugees, mostly old men, women and children who are afraid to return to their villages.
“I don’t think the fighting will continue, as we heard both sides are negotiating, but refugees are still afraid of going back home," Sai Aung Myint Oo said. “There will be many difficulties for the long term, such as for kids going to school, although they are still OK with help from people of neighboring townships.”
With the onset of winter, the hardships for the refugees are likely to get even harder, Sao Aung Myint Oo said.
“As the weather is getting cold, they are having difficulty getting blankets and running into trouble using water and the toilet,” Sao Aung Myint Oo said.
Reported by Aung Moe Myint and Kyaw Thu for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.