About 1,000 villagers fled their homes in eastern Myanmar’s restive Shan state on Thursday because of a forced recruitment drive by a local armed ethnic group, local residents told RFA.
Those who left are women, children and students, some of whom have since returned to their homes, farming machines and livestock, said Khun Ta Maung, deputy secretary of the Pao Literature and Culture Organization in Namhsan.
When the Restoration Council of the Shan State and Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), the dominant armed ethnic group in southern Shan state, which is fighting for self-determination, recruited people in past years, villagers did not flee to avoid being forced to join them in their fight against the government army.
RFA contacted the RCSS office in Taunggyi for comment, but there was no immediate answer.
Two people who fled from the RCSS said the group recruited about 50 people from one of its temporary camps.
About 90 men from villages in Namhsan township are staying at a monastery to avoid arrest by RCSS, sources said.
The ongoing conflict in Shan state has broader implications for the state of peace in Myanmar, as President Thein Sein seeks to forge a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with more than a dozen ethnic armies ahead of elections planned for later this year.
Although the RCSS/SSA had reached a bilateral cease-fire with the government in 2011, it is not a member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) coalition of 16 armed ethnic groups involved in the peace talks.
In late March, the NCCT signed a draft peace deal with the government’s Union Peace-Making Work Committee (UPWC), but while the two parties agreed on most of the accord’s content, some areas of disagreement remained.
Rakhine villagers charged
In other developments, 11 villagers in a western Myanmar state were charged on Thursday in connection with the armed ethnic Arakan Army (AA) at Kyauttaw township court, a local law enforcement officer said.
The AA is one of a few armed ethnic groups engaged in fighting with the government army, despite efforts to realize the NCA.
“One of the 11 people charged is an Arakan Army (AA) member,” Khin Maung, a Kyauttaw township police officer told RFA. “The other 10 people were helping the AA, and they attended the AA’s meetings.”
The 11 people, whose trial date is set for June 11, are part of a larger group of 32 who have been charged under Article 17/1 and 17/2 of the country’s Unlawful Association Act, he said. The remaining 20 will go on trial on Friday.
The 32 arrested are from various towns in Rakhine state, including Kyauttaw, Kyautpyu, Yanbye, Buthidaung, Minbya and Mrauk U, Khin Maung said. Eight are from the Myo ethnic group. Three Myo ethnic parties have issued statements calling for their release.
The AA along with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in Shan state’s Kokang region and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in northern Shan state had threatened earlier this month to pull out of Myanmar’s draft NCA because of continued military offensives by government troops.
Even though all three groups are NCCT members, the government does not recognize the AA and MNDAA as such, and the TNLA has not signed a bilateral cease-fire agreement with the government.
Negotiations regarding a countrywide peace deal continue, but Naing Han Thar, leader of the NCCT, warned earlier this month that efforts to finalize the NCA could founder if the government insisted on excluding certain armed ethic groups, including the AA, from the process.
Reported by Min Thein Aung, Zarni Tun and Khun Yazar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.