Palaung Groups Accuse Burma Army of Torture in Shan State

By Lawi Weng 16 March 2016

RANGOON — Ethnic Palaung civil society groups this week claimed widespread human rights abuses are being perpetrated by the Burma Army amid an ongoing offensive by government troops in northern Shan State.

Those alleged abuses include detention and torture of civilians, some of whom have also seen their houses set ablaze by Burma Army soldiers who have clashed with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) across several townships in northern Shan State since the beginning of this month.

The recent conflict has forced more than 1,000 ethnic Palaung to flee their villages. The affected are staying at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kutkai Township.

The Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO) reported that 23 locals from Tarmoenyin subtownship, in Kutkai Township, were detained by the Burma Army on Monday evening, accused of supporting the TNLA.

“Those detained were men, and no one knows yet where they have been taken,” said a statement issued by the group on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, another four locals from Ngegge village, Kutkai Township, were also detained after being accused of communicating with the TNLA. They are being held at the Burma Army’s Military Strategy Operation Unit in Kutkai, the women’s group said. One student was included among the four people detained on March 6 by soldiers from Burma Army Light Infantry Division No. 99, TWO added.

In a similar case, three people from Kaung Loi village were detained on Feb. 22 by troops from Burma Army Light Infantry Division Nos. 33 and 99, which TWO claims proceeded to employ torture tactics including beatings, and burns and cuts to their bodies.

Fighting in recent weeks has been particularly intense in Kutkai, Kyaukme and Namkham townships. State media, however, has been silent on the conflict despite the sustained hostilities and large population of displaced civilians.

Myo Aung, from the Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization (TSYO), said some of the 23 people detained for suspected affiliation with the TNLA had been released since Monday.

Myo Aung said eight of the 23 were tortured and beaten by Burma Army soldiers while in detention. Three other women—one elderly and a pair of 17-year-olds—were wounded by stray fire in the course of the recent clashes.

Community leaders in Kutkai have set up two camps for IDPs, whose ranks grow daily, said Myo Aung. “We do not have a stable list for IDPs as even more people keep coming.”

The TNLA also claimed that its adversary, specifically Light Infantry Division No. 33, has burned civilians’ homes, and food stores, in villages including Loi Kan, Mang Seik, and Pain Bon villages.

“They burned around 20 houses in total from the three villages,” said Tar Bang Hla, who is a TNLA communications officer.

The Irrawaddy sought comment on Wednesday from the Burma Army, but Col. Khin Maung Cho, who just last month spoke with this reporter in an official media liaison capacity, said he did not have authority to speak and advised finding another contact person for the armed forces.