Myanmar Villagers Flee Warring Ethnic Armies in Northern Shan State

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 6 January 2021

Yangon — Fresh military tensions in Namtu and Kyaukme in northern Shan State between two ethnic armed groups – the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) – have forced thousands of villagers from their homes since late December.

In Namtu, over 800 people have fled their homes. A community representative, who asked to remain anonymous for his safety, told The Irrawaddy that a man died and a house was flattened in Nyaung Swe village on Tuesday.

“Pan Chin villagers were not allowed to flee by one of the armed groups,” he said.

Lower House lawmaker Daw Nan Kham Aye of Namtu Township said the numbers displaced are rising. “A total of 246 people from three villagers have arrived in Mansan village and 605 people from five other villages are now at Nar Sai village,” the lawmaker told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

The displaced people in Nar Sai need bedding, she said.

In 2018 the fiercest fighting occurred between the RCSS and TNLA in Namtu Township with tensions running high between Shan and Ta’ang communities in the town.

The RCSS said it has taken control of Lwel En Tin village-tract and Tow San village in Kyaukme, where Ta’ang or Palaung ethnic people make up the majority of the population following a week’s fighting.

A RCSS fighter. / Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy
captions for the rest: Villagers displaced by clashes arrive in urban Kyaukme. / Ohm Tamang Social Organization

“It was not that we attacked and occupied their outpost. As the TNLA attacked us, we defended ourselves and carried out counter-attacks. They fled and we chased them,” RCSS spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sai Ohm Khur told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

The spokesman said the armed group would continue to hold the villages to protect residents, warning that clashes may erupt if TNLA troops return.

When clashes broke out in Lwel En Tin village-tract on Dec. 25, the TNLA claimed the RCSS launched attacks on them first, but the RCSS said the opposite. Over 1,100 residents were forced from their homes to take shelter in urban Kyaukme.

According to Kyaukme Township General Administration Department, the village-tract consists of six villages with a population of over 1,400. Clashes ceased earlier this month, but villagers dare not return home for fear of more fighting if TNLA troops return.

A villager from Lwel En Tin, who is taking shelter at a relative’s house in Kyaukme, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday: “We dare not go back home while the situation remains unstable. Our lives will be at risk if we are trapped in the fighting.”

Meanwhile, 109 Tow San villagers in Kyaukme Township fled to a nearby village following the clashes in the first week of January.

The TNLA accused the RCSS of attacking its outpost in Tow San on Monday morning. U Tin Maung Thein, chairman of a Kyaukme-based committee to help the displaced, said on Tuesday: “There was a clash yesterday. We heard that the RCSS attacked a TNLA outpost and 109 villagers from Tow San have fled to Ohm Ngan.”

The Irrawaddy was unable to contact the TNLA about the fighting.

The TNLA’s Monday statement said there were 10 clashes in the first week of January as the RCSS attacked its outposts in Kyaukme and Namtu.

The two armed groups have engaged in clashes since early 2016 in Kyaukme, Namhsan, Namtu and Hsipaw townships in northern Shan State over territorial disputes. The TNLA’s ally, the Shan State Progress Party, has also accused the RCSS of trespassing.

The RCSS and TNLA held talks in 2018 but negotiations have since stalled.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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