Villagers Flee as Myanmar Army, Rebel Troops Move Into Shan State's Hsenwi Township

myanmar-tnla-troops-shan-state-undated-photo-main.jpg Soldiers from the Ta'ang National Liberation Army patrol a village in eastern Myanmar's Shan state in an undated photo.
Photo provided by Nan Khin Htar Yi, SNLD

UPDATED at 10:07 A.M. on 2017-07-21

Growing tension between government soldiers and Ta’ang National Liberation Army troops in northern Shan state has forced hundreds of people from seven villages in Hsenwi township of Lashio district to preemptively flee to safety to the town of Theinni, a local lawmaker said on Thursday.

“Since the government army was there, the locals became worried about possible fighting when the soldiers encountered TNLA troops,” said Nang Khin Htar Ye, a member of the Shan state parliament from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party.

She said 296 people arrived in Theinni on Wednesday, and now a total of 731 are there, staying in a Buddhist monastery. The town is about 28 miles north of Shan state’s largest town Lashio.

The villagers have accused TNLA soldiers of extorting 10 million kyats (U.S. $7,250) from each of the seven villages when they entered the area at about 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.

“When villagers said they were not able to pay, they abducted three villagers, threatening to kill them,” Nang Khin Htar Ye was quoted as saying in the report.

Community leaders, government officials, and lawmakers have been asking for donations for the villagers, the amount of which has reached about 3 million kyats (U.S. $2,175), she told RFA.

Fighting between the TNLA and government army and intermittent clashes between the TNLA and a rival ethnic militia—the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S)—have forced thousands of residents in northern Shan state to flee their homes and seek shelter in Buddhist monasteries.

The TNLA along with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Arakan Army (AA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) comprise the Northern Alliance, a coalition fighting Myanmar forces in northern Shan and Kachin states that carried out coordinated attacks on government and military targets in northern Shan state last November.

None of the groups signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the government in October 2015, and they have largely remained outside the country’s slow-moving peace process aimed at ending decades of war.

Thais break up CSSU meeting

In a related development, a Myanmar military attaché asked Thai authorities on Thursday to ban an ethnic Shan group called the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU) from meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Thai authorities said they complied with the request by Brigadier General Khin Zaw because he indicated that illegal groups and foreigners who wanted to create upheaval in Myanmar’s political situation were attending the meeting.

“Officials in Thai Army Region 3 informed us to stop the meeting for two reasons,” said Sai Bo Aung, general secretary of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), one of the political groups comprising the CSSU.

Thai army officials said the meeting was counterproductive to Myanmar’s peace process and included representatives from ethnic armed groups that have not signed the government’s NCA, he said.

The civilian-led government of Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is seeking to end long-term fighting between heavily armed ethnic militias and the Myanmar military and build a democratic federal union in the country through a series of peace negotiations.

RFA’s Myanmar Service could not reach the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok for comment, but an official at the country’s consulate in Chiang Mai said he did not know about the matter.

“We have received no instruction or information regarding this news,” said Counselor San Yu Kyaw.

The CSSU was set up in October 2013 in Thailand to try to restore unity among ethnic groups in Shan state, solve political problems among various ethnic communities, and build a democratic system and a federal union in Myanmar.

Besides the SNDP, the committee includes the Shan State Joint Action Committee, Restoration Council of Shan State, and Shan civil society organizations.

Reported by Kyaw Thu and Aung Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

CORRECTION: An earlier verion of the article incorrecrtly identified military attache Khin Zaw as a major instead of a brigadier general.

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