Govt Offers Talks with SSA-N as Supplies Dwindle for Displaced Civilians

By Nang Seng Nom 20 November 2015

RANGOON — Amid fighting between the Burma Armed Forces and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) in central Shan State that has displaced around 10,000 people, the government’s peace negotiating body has proposed talks with the ethnic armed group in Naypyidaw.

Sao Naw Leik, a central committee member of the SSA-N’s political arm, the Shan State Progress Party, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that Khin Maung Soe of the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) had reached out by phone to propose the dialogue, though no date was confirmed.

Sao Naw Leik said the group was waiting to receive a formal offer in writing.

“We are ready [to meet] anywhere if offered by letter,” he said.

Clashes, which first erupted on Oct. 6, have been reported in Mong Hsu, Kyethi and Mong Nawng townships over several weeks, with local sources and rights groups estimating that around 10,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

Government troops have reportedly deployed at least one helicopter gunship, which flew over Mong Hsu town and fired on SSA-N positions and nearby villages on Nov. 14, providing aerial cover for a fresh ground offensive.

Major Sai Su, a spokesperson for the SSA-N, said clashes had continued until Wednesday, with a day of respite on Thursday.

The ethnic armed group said it has sent several reports on clashes to government officials, without response.

“At first, we thought the attacks were because of the election. Perhaps, [the government] is making an example of us because we did not sign the ceasefire agreement,” Sao Naw Leik said.

The SSA-N is one of several major ethnic armed groups that did not sign a “nationwide” ceasefire agreement, inked between Naypyidaw and eight armed groups in mid-October.

Villagers have been forced from their homes in Taunggyi, Mong Hsu, Laihka, Lashio, Nansang and Mong Nawng townships, and some are feared to be trapped in their villages, according to the Shan State Youth Network.

Supplies for villagers at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mong Hsu Township’s Hai Pa village are reportedly running short, with ongoing clashes making deliveries to the camp almost impossible, according to local aid providers.

Nan Kaung Kham, a member of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) which is assisting displaced villagers in Mong Hsu Township, said volunteers are working to relocate the 1,500 people in the Hai Pa camp to another location.

“We can’t send food there because of the clashes. It is risky to go there. There are only a week’s worth of supplies left. We are trying to get them out of Hai Pa,” she said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) expressed concern on Wednesday at ongoing clashes and reports of thousands of people displaced.

“The UN and its humanitarian partners are working closely with local groups in the area to support their ongoing response to meet immediate humanitarian needs, including hygiene kits, clothing, blankets, food, medicine, shelter and water and sanitation,” OCHA spokesperson Pierre Peron told The Irrawaddy.

“A UN-led team managed to visit some of the displaced people last week. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and are ready to provide further support as soon as security conditions allow.”

Locals are fleeing Mong Hsu on a daily basis and food supplies are urgently needed for them, said Sai Thurein Oo, a lawmaker from the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP).

Sporadic bomb blasts in the area have also panicked many residents, he said.

On Tuesday evening, two men threw a grenade at a house in Ward 4 of Mong Hsu and another unexploded grenade was found at the scene, according to police lieutenant Hsan Lwin of the Shan State police force. There were no casualties and police were continuing their investigations, he said.

Translated by Thet Ko Ko. Additional reporting by Yen Snaing.