800 Villagers Flee Fighting Between Rival Ethnic Armies in Myanmar’s Shan State

Residents seek shelter in Buddhist monasteries after a new clash erupts near Pangkut village in Namtu township.

Soldiers from the Ta'ang National Liberation Army patrol a village in eastern Myanmar's Shan state in an undated photo.

A fresh clash between rival ethnic armed groups in Myanmar’s war-torn Shan state has forced more than 800 villagers to flee their homes and seek shelter in Buddhist monasteries, an NGO worker and village chief said Monday.

The fighting broke out a day earlier between troops from the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) and soldiers from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) near Pangkut village in Namtu township, Nang Kham Mie from the Mangsan Charity Organization told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

The villagers, some of whom became ill after traveling through the jungle, are staying temporarily in monasteries in Mangsan village, he said.

“According to our list, there are more than 800 people staying at temporary camps [at monasteries], but people who are staying at their relatives’ houses are not on this list,” said Pho Htaung, the head of Mangsan village.

“People were coming into the camps the entire day yesterday,” he said. “We can only help them with food.”

Local residents said that Northern Alliance troops are deployed near Mangsan, Oanghat, and Narhone villages, while RCSS soldiers and government army troops are stationed around Panglon village.

The Northern Alliance, a military coalition of four ethnic armies including the TNLA, has been engaged in recent fighting with government troops in Shan and neighboring Kachin state.

In July, the TNLA had joined with another ethnic armed group, the Shan State Progress Party, in fighting against the RCSS/SSA-S, sources said in earlier reports.

The TNLA engaged in hostilities with RCSS troops for about 20 minutes on Aug. 5, said TNLA spokesman Colonel Mine Aik Kyaw.

“We almost didn’t open fire, but the RCSS opened fire with heavy weapons,” he told RFA.

“They didn’t come in this area before they signed NCA, but only stayed around Namhkam township,” he said, referring to a nationwide cease-fire agreement that 10 ethnic armed groups, including the RCSS, signed with the Myanmar government to cease hostilities with the national army.

The TNLA has been fighting the Myanmar army and the RCSS in Shan state since late November 2015, about six weeks after the signing of the NCA between the government and some of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armed groups.

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

Opening shots

Despite the RCSS having signed the NCA, hundreds of its troops have entered Namtu township, ignoring requests from the TNLA that they not come into the area, Mine Aik Kyaw said.

The two armies also engaged in about six clashes in June, three in July, and one so far in August, he said.

“They [the RCSS] sometimes opened fire in some places where they thought our soldiers were, but we were not there,” he said.

About 30 rounds of heavy fighting between the two armies also occurred in March, when the TNLA attacked RCSS posts for creating havoc for villagers in TNLA-controlled areas, he said.

That month the TNLA engaged in skirmishes with the RCSS in Kyaukme townships and Namhsan township in the ethnic Palaung self-administered zone, as well as with the Myanmar army in Mangton, Namtu, and Namhkam townships.

“We didn’t go into their [RCSS] territory and attack them,” Mine Aik Kyaw said. “We fought them because they came into our territory and troubled the locals, such as trying to extort money from them, taking food, and arresting people.”

RSCC soldiers targeted Ta’ang (Palaung) ethnics whom they arrested, tortured, and killed, he said.

“They recently arrested and took four villagers from Pangkut village, and we don’t know whether they are still alive or not,” he said.

RFA was unable to reach RCSS officials for comment.

About 300 villagers fled their homes on Aug. 2, fearing renewed fighting between the national military and ethnic armed groups seen approaching Namtu township, local sources said. Most of them are currently sheltering inside Buddhist monasteries in Hsipaw township, also known as Thibaw, and in Mangsan village.

Reported by Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.