An ethnic Ta’ang militia operating in Myanmar's war-torn northern Shan state conducted recent searches for illegal drugs, but did not kidnap villagers and demand payments from family members for their release, a spokesman for the group said Monday
Residents cited media reports that the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) arrested 21 local residents, including children, on March 21 and demanded that their families pay ransoms of one million-3.6 million kyats (U.S. $750-$2,700).
Five people have yet to be released, according to residents.
TNLA spokesman Colonel Tar Aik Kyaw said the militia’s soldiers conducted several surprise checks for drug users but did not kidnap any villagers.
The TNLA often seizes illegal drugs in the state, which borders China and is a hotbed for flagrant drug activity, with the narcotics of choice being heroin and methamphetamine, an extremely addictive stimulant in the form of a white, bitter-tasting crystalline powder commonly sold as “yaba” tablets.
“We asked our troops on the ground, and they said they didn’t arrest anyone or ask for money,” Tar Aik Kyaw told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The media reports cited by villagers were groundless, amounting to nothing more than rumors on social media, he said.
“That’s why we have no reason to refute them,” Tar Aik Kyaw said.
The TNLA engaged in skirmishes with the Myanmar army in the state’s Mangton, Namtu, and Namhkam townships in March, as well as with troops from the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), the political organization that oversees the Shan State Army-South militia, in Namhsan and Kyaukme townships.
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 eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armed groups.
The RCSS is one of the eight original signatories to the NCA, while the TNLA was excluded from signing the accord because of its ongoing hostilities with Myanmar’s armed forces.
The fighting has forced thousands of residents of northern Shan state to flee their homes and seek shelter in Buddhist monasteries.
At the beginning of the year, soldiers from the TNLA and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), another ethnic armed group, attacked the government military headquarters in neighboring Kachin state, prompting Myanmar forces to launch counterattacks.
In the past, Shan villagers have accused TNLA soldiers of extorting money from them by threatening to abduct family members and kill them, while they are patrolling areas or searching homes.
Last July, residents of seven villages in Hsenwi township of Lashio district who preemptively fled to safety to the town of Theinni during a period of growing tension between the TNLA and government army said ethnic militia soldiers demanded 10 million kyats (U.S. $7,250) from each community after they entered the area.
When villagers indicated that they could not pay the money, TNLA soldiers abducted three people and threatened to kill them, they said.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.