Hundreds Flee Fighting Between Rival Ethnic Groups in Namtu

By Lawi Weng 16 July 2018

Hundreds of local villagers fled their homes in Namtu Township, northern Shan State, after fighting broke out this morning between troops of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), and a joint force of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), according to local sources.

Nang Sam Howm, a Shan State lawmaker from Namtu Township, told The Irrawaddy that the clashes had caused over 400 local people to abandon their villages.

“The fighting broke out at 8 am. And we could still hear the sounds of shooting up until now (4 pm, local time),” she said, adding that she was unsure exactly how many villagers had been displaced.

“A lot of people fled. But, we still need to go out and rescue them so we do not have an exact number yet,” she said.

There are currently about 1,000 villagers living in a makeshift IDP camp in Namtu as a result of fighting in recent years. Many of the villagers who fled today sought sanctuary in a Shan Buddhist monastery.

Tai Freedom, a media outlet operated by the RCSS, claimed the TNLA and SSPP launched a coordinated attack against RCSS positions.

“They launched a pre-meditated attack against our troops,” Tai Freedom said.

The RCSS media outlet recently reported that the Northern Alliance, which includes the TNLA, SSPP, Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and United Wa State Army (UWSA), had been conducting joint military exercises in the Namtu area. But the SSPP issued a statement last week denying the report.

The RCSS said it had withdrawn its troops on four occasions to avoid clashes with Northern Alliance armies, but the joint TNLA and SSPP force pursued and attacked the RCSS units, according to a Tai Freedom report.

The Irrawaddy tried to get details about the fighting from the RCSS and TNLA, but they both declined to comment.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sai Oo, a spokesperson for the RCSS, confirmed that fighting had broken out with the TNLA and SSPP, but he declined to provide any further details.

There are several ethnic armed groups active in Namtu Township, which is a key crossroads between several ethnic townships.

The TNLA, SSPP, KIA, and RCSS are the main armed groups active in the area. According to the TNLA, the RCSS expanded its area of control with help from the Myanmar Army after signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, which caused clashes with the other armed groups.