In Myanmar’s Shan State, Villagers Wounded, Trapped, and Living in Fear

By Lawi Weng 19 August 2019

With ongoing fighting between the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, and armed ethnic rebel groups in their own backyards, villagers in northern Shan State’s Kutkai Township fear for their own safety and wellbeing, as neighbors wounded in the crossfire find themselves cutoff from access to medical care.

At least two civilians are now wounded and in urgent need of medical care there, in the village of Mong Yu, but are trapped by the ongoing conflict and cut off from access to nearby hospitals, local sources told The Irrawaddy.

Mai Aike Ywan was shot in the leg and hand Sunday evening while driving his motorbike on a stretch of highway that fighting has spread to in the wake of an ethnic armed groups’ counteroffensive against the Tatmadaw.

“He was brought to the village clinic last night for treatment,” Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO) member Kham Mat said. “His blood pressure was low, and his wounds could be fatal,” she said, adding that he was in urgent need of medical care at a hospital.

Mai Aike Ywan told villagers that Tatmadaw troops attempted to stop him while he was driving but, out of fear, he refused to stop, so they shot him.

Kham Mat said she’d traveled with a rescue group Monday morning but had to turn back before reaching the village because of the fighting.

“No one would take responsibility if our car were to be shot at, so we decided to turn back,” she said. “We’re ready to go when the fighting dies down.”

Separately, Lom Awng San, 29, was also shot in the leg while traveling with a friend by motorbike Sunday evening. Sources tell The Irrawaddy the friend fled when shots were fired, leaving Lom Awng San to be found and brought back to his home by locals Monday morning.

“He is a family man. He has a boy and a girl,” Kham Mat said.

Lom Awng San had been on his way to retrieve his grazing buffaloes at the time.

A Mong Yu villager that asked for anonymity out of security concerns, also a TWO member, told The Irrawaddy that, having been left on the road overnight, Lom Awng San’s condition is now dire.

“His body was very cool. Medics could not inject medicine because he was so cold. We tried to warm him up. He’s a little warmer now,” she said, adding that Lom Awng San also urgently needed medical care from a hospital.

A large village of 1,730 residents, Mong Yu’s nearest government hospital is 20 miles away, in the town of Kutkai, but fighting just outside their village has residents and even rescue workers afraid to venture outside of it for medical treatment.

“No one dares to leave the village. We all have to stay here,” the woman said.

Armed rebels from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), calling themselves the Brotherhood Alliance, launched a counteroffensive against the Tatmadaw on Aug. 15 in an effort to take pressure off of fighting in rebel-controlled areas, killing eight Tatmadaw soldiers, four police officers and two civilians in townships in Mandalay Region and Shan State.

The military is engaged in fighting with the AA in Rakhine State, in western Myanmar, and has attacked TNLA and MNDAA outposts in Shan State, despite having declared unilateral ceasefires there.

The Myanmar government has called the rebel attacks “terrorist acts” that could “seriously derail the peace process the government is working on.”

Kham Mat said fighting had broken out three miles from the village on Sunday, and that some mortar shells fell in the village Sunday night but no one was hurt.

According to the Brotherhood Alliance, fighting broke out on Aug. 17 at 10 places in Kutkai and Lashio in which 12 Tatmadaw soldiers, including a deputy commander, were killed and 30 were wounded, while two rebel soldiers were killed and several were wounded.

“Some soldiers were killed, but not a lot,” said Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, when asked about the fighting there. “Attacks broke out mainly along the highway.”

The Mitta Shin Social Service Association posted on Facebook that they had rescued four wounded Tatmadaw soldiers and retrieved the bodies of six dead soldiers from the battle.

Zaw Min Tun said he had not heard about any new attacks breaking out Monday.

In Lashio that day, one rescue worker from the Social Service Association was killed and four were wounded when their vehicle was shot at as they traveled from Lashio to Nam Ton Pan Hat Village to assist injured civilians there, while in Kutkai shots fired at a Mitta Rescue Team vehicle wounded one rescue worker.

Some locals said they believe the attacks on rescue workers were fired by rebel soldiers.

Fighting update

Attempting to delay Tatmadaw reinforcements, rebels bombed the Nar Dee Bridge and the Kon La Bridge, according to TNLA spokesperson Brigadier General Tar Phone Kyaw, but it was too late.

“Tatmadaw troop reinforcements have already reached the fighting area, even though we tried to block them,” he said.

The Brotherhood Alliance has not said when its current counteroffensive will end.

Also on Sunday night, a Shan villager was killed when an artillery shell fell near his home in Kown Sa Village, in Lashio Township.

While travel is virtually impossible in Kutkai, some have been able to travel between Lashio and Hseni townships.

A combined 2,637 people in Lashio, Hseni and Kutkai townships have become internally displaced due to the fighting, according to Mai Kaung Saing, a volunteer currently assisting internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Many IDPs have taken refuge in places of worship, including Buddhist monasteries and Christian churches.

Lashio is the largest of the three townships, with some 2,000 residents.