The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has released nearly 60 Ta’ang and Lahu ethnic minorities its soldiers detained in a village in in Myanmar’s northern Shan state in early March, according to an official from the ethnic army.
KIA Battalion No. 8 under the command of Brigade No. 4 detained the 57 sugarcane plantation workers, most of whom are Ta’ang ethnics from Man Phang village, on March 4.
“The commander of Brigade No. 4 said all the detainees have been released,” KIA spokesman Colonel Naw Bu told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Tuesday.
The detainees, including women and children, were let go because the situation on the ground did not allow for them to be properly questioned, according to a KIA statement issued Monday, which did not specify what the soldiers wanted to interrogate the workers about.
Kachin forces already had released 20 men, and 10 others had escaped, when the remainder was ordered freed, local sources said.
Area residents said they suspected that the KIA detained the workers to force them to become soldiers, but Naw Bu told RFA that the Kachin army’s policy forbids forced recruiting.
“The KIA’s policy forbids involuntary recruiting by abduction,” he said. “We have issued orders about that.”
Naw Bu acknowledged that some soldiers had violated the policy, however.
“Some junior commanders on the front line were violating the policy in getting new recruits for their battalion,” he Bu said. “So now, we have released all the detainees.”
KIA officials will issue a warning to the officers concerned, though it wasn’t clear if any action had been taken against them yet, he added.
The KIA is one of a few ethnic armed groups fighting the Myanmar military or other ethnic armies in northern Shan state and neighboring Kachin state.
Armed conflict has displaced more than 107,000 civilians in both regions since hostilities between the KIA and the Myanmar military restarted in 2011, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
‘No more forced recruitments’
Lway Poe Kamaekhour from the Ta'ang Women's Organization (TWO) told RFA that her group had received information that all detained Ta’ang ethnics were now back in their village.
“All of them are in good shape,” she said. “We have received photos of the freed detainees. They don’t look like they have been tortured.”
The forced recruitment of civilians takes place everywhere in northern Shan state, she said.
“It is done by different armed groups in the region,” she said. “I want to see long-lasting peace in the region so that there are no more forced recruitments.”
TWO also said that the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), another ethnic army fighting in northern Shan state, recently arrested 12 local villagers from Namtu township, but has not released them.
The RCSS denied the report.
Rights groups have accused both government troops and ethnic rebel soldiers of human rights violations in Myanmar’s conflict zones, including kidnapping, torturing, and killing civilians, and forcing them to work as laborers.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.