Ethnic Armed Group Accused of Abducting Local Party Leaders in Shan State
By Moe Myint 23 June 2015
RANGOON — The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), an ethnic armed group in Burma, has been accused of abducting the president and secretary of a local branch of the Ta’ang National Party in Shan State’s Mongkaung Township.
A senior member of the Ta’ang National Party’s Mongkaung branch told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the RCSS was suspected because the party had received three threatening letters from the Shan ethnic armed group. The party’s branch office President Mai Aung Khan and Secretary Mai Kyam Sar went missing on Saturday, according to the local executive committee member, who asked that his name be withheld out of fear of reprisals.
“This is the territory of the RCSS, there is no need for a political party here,” the committee member quoted one of the letters as saying. “If you won’t accept that, something unexpected will happen soon.”
The local party leader acknowledged that he could not say with complete certainty that the RCSS was behind the abduction, but said the existence of the letters and a general consensus among locals pointed to the group as the likely perpetrator.
“Their families are so worried about them,” he said of the abducted men, adding that members of the RCSS central committee had been contacted by the party about its leaders’ disappearance and the rebel group said it would “undertake an investigation process.”
The local party leader phoned The Irrawaddy on Tuesday to provide an update, saying villagers in the area had confirmed RCSS involvement in the two men’s disappearance. The abduction is thought to be motivated by RCSS grievances over party activities in the area.
“I got some information from the villagers; the RCSS met with villagers in Naung San Phu village tract [on Monday] and they provided three reasons for why they arrested the Ta’ang party leader. The first is that they disliked the development process, the second one is regarding a DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] video program that gave Ta’ang information to the media, and the third one is a party signboard posted in Mongkaung town.”
The RCSS also reportedly asked villagers whether they would support the Ta’ang National Party. The villagers responded, according to the anonymous Ta’ang leader, by saying that while they were not well-versed in politics, they would support any party that could offer regional development.
Sai Nyunt Lwin, a member of the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD) central committee, said at least three other parties have branch offices in Mongkaung, including his party and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
The Ta’ang, also known as Palaung, are an ethnic minority that reside primarily in Shan State.
A TNP central committee member, who also requested anonymity for safety reasons, confirmed the two men’s disappearance.
“It happened in Mongkaung market, ununiformed [men] took them. We can’t say exactly the armed group name because they were wearing formal dress,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
The party had requested that the Shan State government intervene to resolve the situation on the same day that the two men went missing, but had not yet received a response, he added.
On Monday night, The Irrawaddy phoned Shan State Chief Minister Sao Aung Myat, who said that “we haven’t received any information like that,” before the line abruptly went dead. A call to the chief minister’s press officer on Tuesday was redirected to the Shan State police chief, who could not be reached by phone.
The Ta’ang National Party branch office in Mongkaung opened on June 4, and the central committee member said that on the day prior the party received the first threatening letter from the RCSS. In the letter, the RCSS sought a meeting with the Ta’ang National Party’s central committee, but the senior leadership didn’t meet with the Shan armed group because they were busy preparing for Burma’s upcoming general election at the time, according to the senior committee member.
He said the reason that the party opened a branch office in Mongkaung was because the region suffered from “a lack of education, poverty and underdevelopment.”
“Everything is backward compared with other regions, and local people also demanded us; we are recognized by the government and not an illegal political party.”
The chairman of the Loilem district election subcommission, Than Tin, on Monday said he had not been contacted by the Ta’ang National Party but had heard of an incident in Mongkaung, which is located within the district.
Contacted by The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, RCSS spokesperson Col. Sai La said he had not received any information about the alleged abduction.
“Our soldiers act in accordance with our laws; if they were to break them, [legal] action would be taken based on the violation, but for now I don’t know what happen,” he said from northern Thailand.
The Ta’ang National Party contested Burma’s 2010 general election, winning a total of six seats; four in the Shan State legislature and one in both the Upper and Lower chambers of the Union Parliament. The party also intends to compete in the upcoming 2015 general election, slated for November.
According to the local Ta’ang National Party leader in Mongkaung, the party is independent and has no affiliation with the Palaung State Liberation Front or its armed wing, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
The latter is engaged in sporadic conflict with the Burma Army in Shan State. The RCSS’s armed wing, the Shan State Army-South, has signed a bilateral ceasefire with the government but is not involved in Naypyidaw’s ongoing effort to negotiate a nationwide ceasefire with 16 ethnic armed groups.
Additional reporting by Nyein Nyein.