Ethnic Armed Groups Clash in Shan State, Killing One Civilian

By Lawi Weng 22 December 2016

RANGOON — One civilian woman was killed and another three wounded on Tuesday in fighting between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) in Pang Long village, Namtu Township, according to local sources.

The deceased victim was shot outside her home while she attempted to run for shelter behind a wood pile. Community leaders were able to organize a funeral on Wednesday, local sources reported. The three wounded civilians were treated at the Lashio Hospital in northern Shan State.

“She was only 17 years old. She was shot while she tried to hide,” said Nang Sam Howm, a lawmaker from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) in Namtu Township.

The victim, an ethnic Shan woman, found herself caught between the two ethnic armed groups when fighting broke out in the village on Tuesday morning. Her family was unable to recover her body until the following day.

“She was shot at 11:00 a.m., but her family had to abandon her body and run away from the fighting,” said Nang Sam Howm.

“It was hard to say who shot the girl,” he added.

In order to recover the woman’s body on Wednesday, several community leaders from Namtu Township asked the two ethnic armed groups to halt their fighting for 20 minutes.

“They were battling inside the village,” said Nang Sam Howm. “They were still fighting when we arrived. But they stopped fighting briefly when we asked them if we could bring out the dead body. We saw that some houses and a monastery were destroyed in the fighting.”

Normally, Pang Long village is home to a mix of ethnic Palaung (Ta’ang) and Shan residents, but nearly all the villagers had fled when fighting started on Tuesday.

“We can’t allow the SSA-S to base themselves in our area of control,” said TNLA spokesman Col. Tar Phone Kyaw. “So we have to kick them out. This is why our troops launched the offensive. Namtu is within our area of control. We may let them stay in Hsipaw, but not in Namtu.”

More than 1,100 internally displaced persons (IDPs) took shelter in Namtu town after fleeing the Pang Long village area this week.

“There are three camps where the IDPs are staying now,” said Nang Sam Howm. “In total, there are 1,125 people.”

Namtu community leaders dispatched a rescue team on Thursday morning to evacuate civilians from nearby Nyaung Pan Hla village, which contains another 25 households.

Many of the IDPs are taking shelter inside a monastery in Namtu town. Few were able to bring enough warm clothing and blankets to protect them from the winter weather. Local aid groups have donated food to the IDPs, and the Shan State government delivered 60 bags of rice on Thursday.

The TNLA and SSA-S come from two different ethnic groups—Palaung and Shan respectively—and have fought each other many times in the past over disputed territory. The most recent round of fighting between the two groups began in February in the region of Kyaukme, Namtu, Namsang, Hsipaw, and Namkham townships in northern Shan State. The SSA-S normally bases itself in southern Shan State, but since signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement, some members of the SSA-S have reportedly tried to expand their area of operations into other ethnic Shan areas.

On Nov. 20, the TNLA seized three military bases from the SSA-S in Mongton Township. TNLA soldiers captured Burma Army uniforms in that raid, according to photos that the group posted on its Facebook account.

Three days later, the Burma Army attacked the TNLA and retook the three positions. In the aftermath of those battles, the TNLA claimed that the Burma Army had worked in concert with the SSA-S and transported SSA-S soldiers from southern Shan State to Mongton Township in the north.