An ethnic Ta’ang politician and his family were murdered in southern Shan State by ethnic Shan armed group the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), according to an investigation committee.
Mai Noam Han, the chairman of the Mongkai Township branch of the Ta’ang National Party (TNP), was found dead last week along with his wife and seven-month-old daughter, after all three went missing two months ago.
He was a respected figure in Mongkai and had taken an active part in the development of Ta’ang people in the region.
Political analysts in Shan State said that the RCSS is unhappy that the TNP has grown in popularity in Mongkai Township.
Mai Noam Han, 39, his 26-year-old wife and their seven-month-old daughter went missing on January 10, on their way back to Mongkai from the funeral of Mai Noam Han’s mother. They were allegedly abducted by the RCSS near the village of Tong Lew.
Their bodies were found on March 9 in a pit in a remote part of the forest. Mai Noam Han was tied up with rope. His wife was discovered next to him with their baby on her back.
The corpses had decomposed and it was not clear if they were pushed into the pit dead or alive. Some 30 bullet casings were found near the bodies, suggesting that they were shot after being pushed into the pit, according to the committee investigating their deaths. The committee is comprised of TNP members, community elders and representatives of civil society organizations.
“All that was left of the baby was its skeleton,” said a member of the investigation team.
Local residents also alleged that Mai Noam Han and his family were killed by the RCSS. According to an RCSS soldier who recently deserted the armed group, the TNP chairman and his family members were held captive before being murdered.
Mai Noam Han was held in bamboo stocks, but his wife and their daughter were not bound, said the RCSS soldier. He added that he fed rice to the baby, who was crying.
Shan political analysts said that Mai Noam Han’s mother was also killed in a politically motivated crime plotted by the RCSS and designed to lure the politician to the area he was killed in.
His mother, younger brother and nephew were riding a tricycle motorbike and returning from shopping in a nearby village when a vehicle hit their tricycle from behind, killing Mai Noam Han’s mother.
“They were intentionally rammed from behind,” a source close to the family told The Irrawaddy. “According to the account of Mai Noam Han’s brother, it is obvious that the vehicle was following them intentionally.”
An investigation committee member said: “Mai Noam Han had not returned to his [native] village since the election was cancelled [voting for the 2020 general election in the region was cancelled due to security concerns]. So, [the RCSS] apparently assumed that he would return to his village only if something happened to his family members.”
When the TNP asked the RCSS about their missing politician and family, the RCSS denied abducting him in a letter sent back on January 29 and signed by a Colonel Sai Ngin.
The RCSS also called for further investigations, saying that other ethnic armed groups are also active in the area and could have abducted Mai Noam Han and his family. However, locals said that troops from the Northern Alliance only arrived in the region on January 24, and that only RCSS soldiers were active in the area prior to that date.
Mongkai Township, which is part of Loilem District in southern Shan State, has seen frequent clashes over territory between the RCSS, also known as the Shan State Army-South, and the rival Shan State Army-North, the armed wing of the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP).
The Ta’ang National Liberation Army is fighting alongside the SSPP. There have also been frequent reports of disputes between the RCSS and other ethnic political organizations representing the Ta’ang and Pa-O, ethnic minorities with a sizeable population in the region.
In the run up to the 2015 general election, the RCSS abducted and detained the then TNP chairman Mai Aung Kham, who stood as a candidate in Mongkai, for nearly two months. He was released only after local residents found out about his detention.
During campaigning ahead of the 2020 general election, the RCSS publicly threatened TNP candidates in Mongkai, forcing the party to stop campaigning before the poll was subsequently cancelled in the region.
In 2018, five Pa-O villagers were killed by RCSS fighters in dispute with residents of Taung Nauk Village-tract in Loilem District.
The Irrawaddy was unable to obtain a comment from RCSS spokesperson Major Sai Kham San.
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