An ethnic armed group engaged in hostilities in Myanmar’s Shan state said Tuesday that government troops killed six female medics held in captivity, amid ongoing fighting in one of the most volatile regions of the country.
The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), said government forces took the women as prisoners of war after ambushing them on the afternoon of July 11 in northern Shan’s Namkham township as they were traveling to a village in the northern part of the state, killing a TNLA soldier trying to protect them.
Major Mai Aik Kyaw, a TNLA spokesman, said the abductions took place during hostilities between TNLA troops and the government army’s Infantry Battalion 301.
“The government army attacked us on July 11 at Arlaw village of Mangton township,” he told RFA's Myanmar Service. “One [soldier] was killed during the fighting, and six female medics were arrested and taken.”
“The bodies of the six female medics and one soldier were found together in a grave on July 14,” he said.
When the women’s bodies were found on July 14, two had gunshot wounds and the other four had stab wounds and bruises from beatings, said a statement issued by the TNLA on Tuesday.
Other soldiers were injured during fighting on July 11 when the medics were taken away, but they managed to escape and reported the abductions, it said.
Government soldiers took three guns from the women who were traveling in the area to provide medical treatment to villagers, the statement said.
After local residents discovered the bodies of the women in a forested area outside a village, they buried them the same day, it said.
So far, Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief’s Office has not issued news of the killings.
RFA’s Myanmar Service was unable to reach spokesmen from the Ministry of Defense for confirmation and additional information.
The killings have sparked outrage among ethnic Ta’ang residents, who accuse government forces of violating the rights of prisoners of war, the online journal The Irrawaddy said.
Ethnic rivals clash
Meanwhile, a clash between rival ethnic armies on Monday forced nearly 1,000 local residents of Mingmu village in Shan state’s Namtu township to flee their homes and seek safety in Buddhist monasteries in the nearby townships of Namtu and Thibaw, also known as Hsipaw.
“About 500 people fled to Hsipaw township, and the rest went to Mangsan village in Namtu township,” Nang Kham Aye, a lawmaker from the Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) who represents Namtu Township in the lower house of parliament, told RFA on Tuesday.
Local residents, civil society organizations, and local government departments are providing food and medicine to the displaced persons, some of whom are in need of clothing after fleeing their farms, sources said.
Fighting broke out on Monday between the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), and a joint force of the TNLA and Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) near Mingmu village.
The RCSS blamed the hostilities on an offensive launched by the TNLA and SSPP against the ethnic militia’s positions, The Irrawaddy reported.
The militia said it had withdrawn its troops on four different occasions to avoid clashes with Northern Alliance armies, but that TNLA-SSPP joint forces attacked its units, the report said.
The Northern Alliance is a military coalition of four ethnic armies — the Arakan Army (AA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) — that have been engaged in fighting with government troops in Shan and neighboring Kachin state.
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 a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) between the government and some of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armed groups.
The RCSS is one of 10 signatories of the NCA, while the TNLA has been excluded from signing the accord because of its ongoing hostilities with Myanmar’s armed forces.
In March, the TNLA clashed with the Myanmar military along the border between Kyaukme and Namhsan townships and in Namtu township, but began to fight the RCSS when its troops entered TNLA-controlled territory and harassed local villagers, took some farm animals, and laid mines in the area’s outskirts, Mai Aik Kyaw told RFA at the time.
Four days of fighting between Myanmar forces and the RCSS that began on July 9 in two villages in Shan state's Mong Kung township forced about 500 residents to flee to safety in monasteries.
Hostilities between the two sides flared when Myanmar forces entered areas controlled by the RCSS and warned the ethnic army to leave new areas that its soldiers had moved into in the southern part of the state, which the government army said were not included in the NCA.
The fresh skirmishes began two days before the Myanmar government opened the third session of its 21st-Century Panglong Conference to bring ethnic armies, the military, and other stakeholders to the negotiating table in a bid to end decades of armed conflict and strained relations with ethnic minority groups.
The session ended on Monday after the 700 delegates in attendance agreed to 14 basic principles covering social issues, the political sector, the economy, and land issues, though no agreement was reached in the security sector, where the powerful national military and the ethnic militias remain at loggerheads.
Reported by Kyaw Thu and Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.