Fighting Spreads Through Northern Shan State, Displacing Hundreds of Civilians

By Lawi Weng 25 February 2015

RANGOON — Heavy fighting between the Burma Army and ethnic rebels is continuing in northern Shan State and has spread beyond the Kokang Special Region in recent days, causing hundreds of civilians to flee, rebel officers and aid workers said on Wednesday.

Since Feb. 9, fighting has raged in the Kokang area on the Burma-China border. The heaviest clashes took place in and around the region’s administrative capital Laukkai until the army established control of the town about a week ago.

In recent days, army operations have expanded and targeted rebel positions of the Kokang rebels, also known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in Laukkai Township and areas further north and south in Konyan and Kunlong townships. The TNLA and the Arakan Army are allied with the MNDAA.

Htun Myat Lin, MNDAA general-secretary, said units of his group clashed with the army in a village called Peng Shwe Shen in Laukkai Township on Tuesday, adding that he heard reports of large army convoys leaving Laukkai town in order to quell resistance in the wider region.

“We heard they drove with 40 army trucks out from Laukkai. The truck at the front point and shoot along the roads everywhere,” he said.

Mai Aike Kyaw, a spokesman for the TNLA, said the ethnic Palaung rebel group had clashed with the army on three occasions in Konyan Township and at Tarmoenye, a sub-township of Kutkhai Township. “They are hunting for our troops. Most clashes broke out in the jungle where our troops are based because they came to attack our bases,” he said.

State-owned media have reported that from Feb. 9-21 the army lost five senior officers and 54 soldiers in the fighting, while 105 were injured. The army said more rebels were killed, claims that have not been confirmed by the rebels.

Aid workers based in northern Shan State said the number of civilians fleeing the spreading fighting was increasing, with daily arrivals of families fleeing south to the towns of Kunlong, Kutkhai and Lashio.

“They arrived almost every day; about 200 new IDPs [internally displaced persons] arrived on Feb 23. Then today has 350 people came from Laukkai,” said Chit Mee, a school teacher who is assisting a temporary shelter for the displaced set up a Buddhist monastery in Lashio.

“We have told some IDPs not to come now, as there is ongoing fighting along the road,” she said. A monk at the monastery said there were a total of some 8,000 people staying there.

Ko Htay, a volunteer overseeing a camp for the displaced in Kunglong, said some 5,000 people were receiving shelter there.

Zau San, an emergency aid coordinator with the Kachin Baptist Convention based in Muse, said clashes between the army and the TNLA had caused about 700 civilians from six villages in Mongkoe sub-township in eastern Muse Township to flee their homes in recent days.

“One house in Hpawng Seng Village was shelled by mortar, and fighting broke out nearby the villages. Many villagers ran away for safety. Some people wanted to go home, but still more Burmese Army soldiers are deployed there. Tensions are high and they could not go home,” he said.

Zau San said many of the displaced had family in China and were trying to cross the border.

Many Burmese residents working in the Kokang Region fled earlier this month and the recent spreading of the fighting is now affecting ethnic minority Palaung, Shan and Kachin villagers living in the countryside.

During the start of the fighting, the mostly ethnic Chinese minority residents of Laukkai town have fled the region and tens of thousands crossed the border into China, where authorities have been providing shelter. It remains unclear exactly how many civilians have fled into to China and Chinese authorities have released little information about the situation.

Unconfirmed media reports have suggested that 100,000 people have fled across the border since Feb. 9. According to provisional results of the 2014 Population Census, Laukkai Township is home to about 95,000 people.