10 Missing after Fighting Between Rival EAOs Causes Villagers to Flee in N. Shan

By Lawi Weng 4 March 2019

Ten people are missing after residents of Mann Lee village in northern Shan State’s Namtu Township fled their homes on March 1 amid fierce fighting between rival ethnic groups in the area, according to local sources.

Two of the missing had stayed behind in the village to take care of their properties. The others disappeared after being displaced by the fighting.

Ko Myo of the Philanthropists Without Borders Association based in Lashio told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the group was still searching for the 10 missing IDPs.

“We first went to check on their village today. But we could not find them. We haven’t heard any news of them yet,” he said.

Ko Myo visited the village on Monday morning. He said one house had been destroyed by an artillery shell. Another shell had landed in front of a Buddhist monastery in the village.

“We saw some properties that had been destroyed in the village by fighting, but not a lot,” he said.

The association would ask for help from ethnic armed groups to search for the missing villagers if it couldn’t find them, he said.

“We want to take a little bit more time to see whether they contact their families,” he said. “If not, we will ask the ethnic armed groups to help us find them,” he said.

The 10 missing villagers are all ethnic Ta’ang and range in age from 15 to 41. The 41-year-old is rescue team member Sai Nge Lay, said Ko Myo.

Ko Sai, the older brother of Sai Nge Lay, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that his brother disappeared on March 1 when he went to rescue other villagers who were trapped by the fighting.

Sai Nge Lay works as a member of a volunteer rescue team in Lashio helping local IDPs in Namtu Township. Ko Sai said that Sai Nge Lay drove his car to Mann Lee village intending to rescue people after receiving a phone call from someone in the village asking for help.

Family members of the 10 missing people have raised the disappearances with Namtu Township authorities.

Ko Sai said he went back to Mann Lee on Sunday looking for his younger brother but could not find him.

“We could not find him or his car,” Ko Sai said.

A joint force of Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) fighters have clashed periodically with Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) troops since February. The fighting escalated on March 1, prompting the residents of Mann Lee to flee. The IDPs from the village are a mixture of Shan and Ta’ang who have lived peacefully together for many years.

Armed conflict is common in northern Shan State. Sometimes it involves fighting between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed groups. However, fighting also occasionally breaks out between rival ethnic armed groups.

The RCSS is an ethnic Shan armed group originally based in southern Shan State. Its members began moving into northern Shan after the group signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, leading to a territorial dispute with the SSPP and TNLA.

The TNLA and SSPP are ethnic Ta’ang and Shan groups based in northern Shan. Both are members of the Northern Alliance of armed groups. The TNLA and SSPP have jointly fought back against the RCSS’ encroachment on their territory. Their current military operation aims to kick the RCSS out of their area of control.

Fighting escalated in northern Shan last year, especially in Namtu and Hsipaw townships, from which hundreds of ethnic Shan and Ta’ang have been displaced. There are about 2,000 IDPs currently staying in camps in Hsipaw Township. The most recent fighting has centered around two locations, one in Loi Lin village in Hsipaw Township, and the other in Mann Lee in Namtu Township. The two areas are considered by the RCSS to sit on a line of demarcation between southern and northern Shan.