Civilian Vehicles Torched Amid Fighting Between Rebels and Myanmar Army

By Zarni Mann 4 September 2019

MANDALAY—Seven vehicles, including trucks, have been torched by suspected armed rebels on the Lashio-Muse Highway near Namkut village, Kutkai Township in northern Shan State, on Tuesday.

It is the fourth such incident, with at least 12 vehicles having been torched on the road by unidentified gunmen in northern Shan State.

Clashes have escalated since a series of attacks on Aug. 15 by the Northern Alliance’s Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

The attack on Aug. 15 targeted the Myanmar military’s Defense Service Technological Academy (DSTA) at Pyin Oo Lwin in Mandalay Region, a toll gate, customs house and police security outpost on the Goke Twin Bridge in Naung Cho Township.

On Aug. 28, the Northern Alliance warned civilians to avoid the area, saying that the military was using civilian vehicles and trucks to transport arms and other equipment. The statement said civilians should contact the rebel groups in the alliance if they are visiting or traveling in conflict areas.

The vehicles on Tuesday were traveling from Muse to Lashio when they were targeted near Namkut village. Unidentified armed men halted the vehicles and forced the drivers out.

“The armed men stopped some cars and blocked the road. They stopped our car and said they would destroy the vehicles because the drivers had not complied with the statement warning people to inform the armed groups,” said an unnamed passenger from Kutkai.

The passenger said the gunmen blocked the road with seized cars, and their mobile phones and money were seized.

“The gunmen asked for our mobile phones, driving licenses and national registration cards and all the money we had,” he added.

Four 12-wheeled trucks and three other vans were torched and three other vehicles managed to flee, according to villagers. The trucks were reportedly carrying fruits, clothes and textiles from Muse to Mandalay.

Another truck was carrying fish to export to China through Muse.

“We are scared because we couldn’t recognize which armed group they were from. They let us go and I went to a small house nearby with the other people. Then I saw the smoke and fire from the vehicles,” he added.

Social volunteer groups arrived after the gunmen left and took the group of 20 to Kutkai.

In an earlier incident, an ambulance was shot at, killing a social organization volunteer and injuring four rescuers. No armed group has claimed responsibility for the incident.

A spokesperson for the military told The Irrawaddy that he believed the gunmen were from the three members of the Northern Alliance.

“We had a small battle near Namkut on Tuesday evening and the rebels retreated to the southeast. Then there was news of the vehicles being torched. So we assume the same group which fought with us torched the vehicles,” said Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun.

A spokesperson for the TNLA, Mong Aik Kyaw, told The Irrawaddy that the group was not responsible.

“The military always accuse us of such incidents. We confronted the military near Namkut that evening. We don’t know who did it. We were told a car was being shot at and was on fire. Two vehicles were burning at the time. But we are not sure if there were seven vehicles or not,” said Mong Aik Kyaw.

Residents said the situation near Kutkai is quite stable but the market and downtown, which are normally crowded, are now almost deserted.

“The other day we heard shooting. Today, there’s nothing, but the news of the vehicles being torched scares us and we are afraid to go out. We want the fighting to end because we want to sleep in peace,” said Ma Ah Mai from Kutkai, who helped shelter the drivers and passengers.

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