CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A week of clashes between the military and the Shan State Army-North appears to have ended after the ethnic armed group vacated a strategic river port in Mong Hsu Township.
Lt-Col Sai Hla, a spokesman for the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), said that attacks on the group’s locations appear from Oct. 6-14 had been motivated by the Burma Army’s desire to occupy Tar San Pu village, an important escape route for SSA-N forces.
Despite telling The Irrawaddy on Monday that the village was a vital strategic base, Sai Hla said on Friday the SSA-N had made a tactical decision to retreat.
“We decided to withdraw because we don’t want our people to get harmed, and we are concerned that the clashes might escalate,” he said.
The conflict has displaced more than 1,500 people around Mong Hsu and Kyethi townships, according to local civil society groups. Four pregnant women are reported to have given birth while fleeing the clashes.
“One of them gave birth in a cave, while the three others had to give birth in the jungle without proper facilities, without midwives and clean medical equipment,” said Sai Khur Hseng, a spokesman for the Shan Human Rights Founcation. “They need proper shelter and nutrition.”
On Thursday, 18 Shan community groups released a joint-statement expressing their concerns for health of displaced villagers and called for an immediate end to the Burma Army’s offensive.
Displaced villagers are short of food and in need of urgent aid, said relief volunteer Sai Zhan Aung, who is assisting a group of 700 people who took refuge in Mong Hsu’s Hai Pa village.
“Most of them are elderly people, women and children,” he told The Irrawaddy. “Though private donors are providing supplies, it is not enough. They are in urgent need of shelter, clothes and medicine.”
Sai Hla has warned that clashes may resume if the build-up of Burma Army soldiers—estimated at over 10 battalions—decides to press on other SSA-N positions.
“There is the possibility that the clashes may intensify because we have seen government troops continuously bringing in soldiers, arms and supplies into our areas,” he said.
The government signed its long awaited “nationwide” ceasefire agreement in Naypyidaw on Thursday, alongside representatives of eight armed insurgent groups. The Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), the political wing of the SSA-N, declined to participate in the accord.