MP Appeals for Aid to Displaced in Conflict-Riven Shan State

By Lawi Weng & Nang Seng Nom 24 November 2015

RANGOON — A lawmaker from conflict-stricken Shan State sought government aid for civilians displaced by ongoing hostilities there between ethnic rebels and the Burma Army during a meeting of Parliament on Monday, as negotiators from the warring sides met in Rangoon to discuss fighting that began early last month.

The urgent Lower House parliamentary proposal and Rangoon dialogue came even as fighting flared again near Mong Ark village in Mong Hsu Township, according to Maj. Sai Kham of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N).

Hostilities between the Burma Army and SSA-N lasted about four hours beginning at 8 am on Monday, Sai Kham told The Irrawaddy, adding that “government troops opened heavy fire with 105 mm and 120 mm” artillery rounds.

Meanwhile in Naypyidaw, Sai Awm Sai Maing, a representative from neighboring Kyethi Township, put forward a proposal seeking government assistance to a displaced population that numbers in the thousands.

Four other lawmakers voiced support for the proposal, which was put on record but did not go to a vote, after deputy ministers from Defense and Home Affairs defended the government’s humanitarian response as adequate.

That view was evidently not shared by Nang War Nu, an ethnic Shan lawmaker.

“There were pregnant women who have birthed children in displaced areas, at markets or in the jungle, while they were hiding from the fighting,” she told Parliament on Monday.

“They do not have enough food and they have many problems that they are struggling with. There are some civic groups, including Shan youth, monks and political parties, that have donated food to displaced people, but this is not enough.”

Zaw Lin Htet, a lawmaker for the National League for Democracy (NLD), echoed that sentiment, saying the only aid to date being provided to internally displaced persons (IDPs) was nongovernmental.

“Therefore, I want to say that the government has a duty to provide to displaced people, and even has a duty to stop this fighting.”

Also on Monday, members of the Union Peacemaking Working Committee including President’s Office Minister Aung Min, the government’s chief peace negotiator, held talks with central committee members of the SSA-N and its political wing, the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP).

The SSA-N/SSPP is one of several ethnic armed groups that have thus far refused to sign a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement with the government, which eight non-state armies and the government committed to on Oct. 15.

Tin Htay, spokesperson for meeting attendee Thein Zaw, the UPWC vice chairman, was tight-lipped about Monday’s talks, saying only that the recent conflict was discussed and that the two sides were due to meet again on Tuesday.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, fighting in Shan State that began in October has displaced about 6,000 people, though locals have claimed that figure could be as high as 10,000.

The displaced population is spread across a large swath of Shan State, including at temporary shelters as far away from the conflict as Lashio and Taunggyi, located some 70 miles north and 90 miles southwest of the fighting, respectively.

The conflict has centered on the headquarters of the SSA-N, Wan Hai in Mong Hsu Township, which was attacked by the Burma Army on Oct. 6. Subsequent government offensives have included heavy artillery fire and aerial bombardments.

The SSA-N’s Gen. Say Htin told The Irrawaddy that fighting continued because the Burma Army had demanded that the Shan rebel group withdraw from a position, an order that the latter refused to follow.

“If we have to withdraw from our base located on the east side of the motorway [at Wan Hai], our headquarters will collapse. They could block all our troop movements. This is why we have to fightback,” Say Htin said.