YANGON — More than 700 locals from the village tract of Kham Teng in Hsenwi Township, Lashio District in northern Shan State have fled to Hsenwi following alleged extortion of more than 70 million kyats from villagers by Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
About 730 locals from seven villages fled to Hsenwi on Wednesday afternoon, Daw Nan Khin Htar Yi, Hsenwi lawmaker in Shan State’s parliament, told The Irrawaddy.
TNLA troops demanded 10 million kyats from each village in the tract when they entered the area at around 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, she said.
“When villagers said they were not able to pay, they abducted three villagers, threatening to kill them,” she said, adding that locals gathered 2.5 million kyats and the three hostages were returned at around 7:30 p.m.
Locals then fled to seek shelter at Buddhist monasteries in Hsenwi, she said, expressing concerns that similar extortions would occur until peace is achieved.
“In fact, the TNLA does not need to come into villages and extort money,” she told The Irrawaddy. “To abduct people and ask for ransom is not what an [ethnic] armed group should do. It is kidnapping.”
Layperson U Sai Kun of Myo Lel Monastery in Hsenwi Township said that more than 40 villagers arrived at the monastery at around 3 p.m. on Wednesday. They were provided with shelter and food before being moved to Kyaung Hsai Monastery on Thursday morning, she said.
“They have fled out of fear. As they left their homes in a hurry, they have left all the basic necessities behind,” U Sai Kun added.
TNLA information officer Col Mai Ai Kyaw, however, denied the extortion at Kham Teng village. He had asked the TNLA troops in Hsenwi Township about the claims, he said, but they denied extorting money.
He explained that TNLA troops are not stationed in the village-tract.
“I think a certain group impersonated us to frighten the public. Maybe this is what happened,” he said.
TNLA secretary Brig-Gen Tar Bone Kyaw admitted to The Irrawaddy on July 11 the group levied taxes in the areas under its control to raise “revolutionary” funds, but that it did not impose taxes on those who could not afford to pay.
There are 731 villagers taking shelter at Kyaung Hsai Monastery—among them are 126 children, and the oldest to flee is a 97-year-old woman.
Some locals have remained in their homes in the seven villages of the tract to protect their houses. Those who are taking shelter in Hsenwi said they want to return as it is farming season.
“It is unlikely they can go back,” said the lawmaker Daw Nan Khin Htar Yi. “I heard that the military have entered those villages and asked the men who are guarding their houses and villages to leave, saying that they would be hurt in the case of clashes. I also heard the sound of shelling there.”
Locals in Hsenwi also reported hearing heavy shelling outside the township, from which the villages are three to six miles away.
Meanwhile, Hsenwi authorities are providing food for the villagers. Donors have also given food and more than 3 million kyats.
Col Mai Ai Kyaw denied ongoing clashes between the Myanmar Army and TNLA troops in Hsenwi Township, but said the two sides clashed in Man Tung Township on Wednesday.
On July 8, police issued a bomb alert to locals in Lashio alleging the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and TNLA were plotting to target public buildings with explosives in the town.
The pamphlets also claimed the two armed groups were targeting Namtu Bridge, Yay Pu inspection gate, government offices, and toll gates in Hsenwi Township. Both KIA and TNLA have denied the allegations.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.