Army Frees Shan Civilians Detained over Soldiers’ Disappearance

By Lawi Weng 27 September 2018

The Myanmar Army has released seven ethnic Shan villagers who were detained last week after two soldiers disappeared in southern Shan State’s Mong Pan Township, according to local sources.

The Army (or Tatmadaw) had earlier accused the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) of involvement in the soldiers’ disappearance. Local residents claimed the Army had threatened the detained villagers’ safety if the ethnic armed group did not release the soldiers.

Sai Hla Aung, a resident of Mong Pan town, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the seven civilians were released on Sept. 25 despite the fact that the soldiers, who were last seen in the township’s Noung Lay village, were still missing.

“We asked [the seven] why they were released, but they said the Army offered no explanation,” Sai Hla Aung said.

“[The villagers] said they were not beaten by the Army while in custody,” he said.

The two soldiers from the Army’s Infantry Battalion 296 left their base on Sept. 20 and have not been heard from since. On Sept. 22, the Army searched Noung Lay and detained seven residents of the village. They were held at Battalion 296’s base.

The Army accused the RCSS of arresting the two soldiers and according to local residents threatened the detained villagers’ safety if the RCSS did not release the soldiers immediately.

The RCSS, based in southern Shan State, denied detaining the soldiers.

RCSS spokesperson Colonel Sai Oo confirmed that the Myanmar Army had released the villagers.

“Their soldiers disappeared, but it was not because of the detained villagers. The soldiers deserted,” Col. Sai Oo said.

The RCSS is an ethnic Shan armed group based in southern Shan State. The group signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the Myanmar government, but continues to engage in periodic clashes with the Myanmar Army.