RANGOON — At a Rangoon press conference on Tuesday, ethnic activists and villagers called for the demining of northern Shan State, a release of detained villagers and an immediate stop to war in the region.
As clashes began earlier this year between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Burma Army, ethnic civilians in particular have suffered displacement and a destruction of their property, most recently in the townships of Kutkai, Kyaukme and Namkham.
Kutkai Township’s Maran Ja Taung, an ethnic Kachin mother of four, shared with Rangoon media representatives the story of losing her husband to a landmine on Feb. 13.
She recalled that she and Naw Mai, 41, were collecting vegetables in the jungle near their old village when he stepped on a landmine and lost both of his legs.
Although he initially survived the blast, the difficulty of traveling on the hilly, rural road barred them from being able to reach a hospital that could provide lifesaving medical care. After being refused at a local hospital, they headed to the Shan State-China border town of Muse.
“My husband was crying for his life and told me to help him. He died on the way,” Maran Ja Taung said.
The death of her spouse was Maran Ja Taung’s most recent tragedy; her home was one of 12 houses burned on Jan. 16, during an exchange of gunfire between the TNLA and government troops near her residence in Ho Pon village. Days earlier, Burma Army Brigade No. 11 and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) had also clashed there.
“I am the most unlucky person, as I not only had to flee during the fighting, I lost both my house and my husband,” she cried. “Please stop the fighting, as it has threatened our lives. We have to be afraid of every armed group active in the area.”
Maran Ja Taung added, “I want to also ask the upcoming government to help us, to work on the unearthing mines and to free us from the warzone.”
Ho Pon villagers sent letters of complaint to the commanders in chief of the Burma Army, the KIA and the TNLA on Feb. 22, but have received no response, said I Z Aung, a member of the Shan State-based Kachin Ethnic Network.
Other abuses were documented in Hseni, some 25 km south of Kutkai town, where four locals from Pang Hat village are still missing after the Burma Army allegedly abducted them on Jan. 11.
Zau Hka, a Pang Hat resident said that in total, 46 men were initially detained by soldiers of Brigade No. 11, but the elderly and men with ties to a local militia were released on the same day. Thirteen men were still missing until last Friday, Feb. 26, when nine were released.
Dau Yang is the wife one of the four men who remain unaccounted for.
“I don’t know how to keep on in our lives while he is missing. I would like to ask for your help to support for the return of my husband and others,” said the mother of three young children.
Locals have sought help from civil society and community-based groups that work in the conflict areas.
One group they did not contact for assistance was the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC). Locals recalled the case of Ja Seng Ing, an ethnic Kachin schoolgirl allegedly killed by the Burma Army in Kachin State 2012. When her father attempted to seek justice on her behalf through the MNHRC, they rejected the case; he was later jailed on defamation charges for six months.
Jaw Gun, of the Kachin Peace Network, said that both government troops and the ethnic armed groups must obey the text of Burma’s so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), signed by eight out of Burma’s more than 20 armed organizations in 2015. He pointed out that even if groups are not signatories, they all participated in the drafting of the NCA.
“They are breaching Section 9 of NCA: protecting the civilians,” he said, “The Burma Army in particular must explain to us about these abductions, as they are an NCA signatory, which obliges them to respect the agreement.”