An ethnic Palaung farmer was held and later released by government troops on Tuesday in a village of Shan State’s Namkham Township, an area where fighting between government forces and ethnic rebels continues to cast a shadow over Burma’s peace process.
The detention of the villager came after soldiers of the Burma Army’s Namkham-based Brigade 88 and Infantry Regiment No. 301 raided the villages of Man Ong, Man Kong and Pha Dan on Tuesday morning, according to the Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO), an activist group working in the region. The ethnic Palaung are also known as Ta’ang.
The troops searched the houses suspecting that local villagers were hiding soldiers of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), according to Poe Nge, a spokeswoman for the TWO.
In Pha Dan village, they detained a 25-year-old Ta’ang farmer, accusing the man of being a member of the TNLA, she said. “We heard he was released on the same day, late at night,” she told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
Citing the accounts of residents from the affected area, Poe Nge claimed that government soldiers had tortured some of the villagers, destroyed household property and stole money equivalent to more than US$500.
For its part, the TNLA says it has not had a presence in Namkham since mid-April, when the rebel group held meetings in the township with the public.
Tuesday also saw continued fighting between the TNLA and the government military, also known as the Tatmadaw. The two sides fought for an hour after the latter attacked a TNLA mobile unit in the village of Hta Kyet, between Man Tong and Namsam townships, according to a TNLA spokesman.
Mai Aie Kyaw, the TNLA official, said six government soldiers were killed in Tuesday’s fighting.
Since January, the TNLA has been involved in more than 40 separate clashes with Tatmadaw troops in Namkham, Man Tong and Namsam townships, Mai Aie Kyaw said. In TNLA-controlled territory, the rebel group said some 47 Tatmadaw units have been active since the beginning of this year.
The TNLA asserts that the fighting has tended to take place where it is involved in poppy eradication programs, which require that the rebel leaders engage in dialogue with local villagers.
The Palaung armed group is one of only two of Burma’s major ethnic militant groups that have yet to sign a ceasefire agreement with the government. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is the other.
TNLA representatives are included among the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team, made up of leaders from 16 ethnic rebel groups in Burma, despite the fact that the Palaung armed faction has no bilateral ceasefire accord with the government. Mai Aie Kyaw said he suspected that “the Tatmadaw’s actions appear to be pressuring them to sign [a bilateral ceasefire] agreement.”
The TNLA last met with the government’s peace negotiating team in August of last year, and Mai Aie Kyaw said plans for further talks are not yet set.
Since May 6, in the Mong Koe area controlled by the KIA’s Brigade No. 4, clashes have taken place almost daily between government troops and an ethnic alliance of TNLA, KIA and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army troops.
Villagers displaced by the recent fighting have taken up residence with relatives or have fled into the jungle. Unlike in some of Burma’s other conflict zones, the humanitarian infrastructure in Palaung areas is relatively underdeveloped, and organized camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) are nonexistent.