Rights Groups Call for End to Military Offensive in Shan State

By Saw Yan Naing 15 October 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A group of 18 ethnic Shan civil society organizations has called on the Burmese government to halt an ongoing military offensive in northern Shan State that has forced over 1,500 villagers from their homes in the past week.

The offensive, involving over ten Burmese battalions, has continued as the Burmese government signed its long-awaited “nationwide” ceasefire agreement in Naypyidaw on Thursday morning with eight non-state armed groups.

Shan civil society spokesman Sai Khur Hseng told The Irrawaddy that the attacks on the Shan State Army North (SSA-N), the armed wing of the Shan State Progressive Party, suggested that the Burma Army was launching offensives against ethnic armed groups that refused to participate in the ceasefire accord.

“There is no guarantee (for civilian safety) even though the ceasefire agreement was signed,” he said. “Only eight groups signed it. Questions arise as to whether they are attacking those groups which didn’t sign the agreement.”

Thursday’s statement accuses the Burmese government of shirking political means to solve conflicts and using the ceasefire agreement as “a divide-and-rule tactic to temporarily pacify some groups while crushing others.”

The Burma Army launched a large-scale military offensive against the SSA-N in Mong Hsu and Kyethi townships on Oct. 6. Attacks have included artillery bombardments directed at the SSA-N’s Wan Hai village headquarters in Mong Hsu, despite a January 2012 ceasefire permitting the armed group to base soldiers in the village. The group’s Wan Hai headquarters were earlier shelled on Aug. 7 following a clash with the military 20 kilometers to the south.

Col. Sai Hla, an SSA-N spokesperson, told The Irrawaddy on Oct. 12 that the latest round of hostilities had been triggered by the group’s refusal to accept a Burma Army request to vacate a strategic river port at Tar San Pu village in Kyethi Township.

More than 1,500 villagers who fled homes are sheltering in nearby villages, while hundreds are hiding in the jungles for safety. Thursday’s statement said that the displaced villagers were in urgent need of humanitarian aid and protection, and were facing a looming food crisis from the interruption to the harvest season. It added that four women had given birth while hiding.

“(The displaced) are staying at monasteries or the houses of their friends and relatives,” said Sai Khur Hseng. “Women who have given birth to babies are suffering from malnutrition. Food conditions will worsen in coming days, as they don’t have sufficient food. They are relying on locals to feed them.”

The groups have also called for the international community to halt the offensive.

“If the international community wants genuine peace in Burma, it is urgently needed to publicly condemn this new offensive and put pressure on Napyidaw to end its advances into ethnic territories and pull back its troops from these areas,” read Thursday’s statement.

The US Embassy in Rangoon released a statement on Thursday commending the signing of the “nationwide” ceasefire agreement in Naypyidaw, while urging the government to continue discussions with ethnic armed groups that refused to sign the pact.

“We remain concerned by reports of continued military offensives in Kachin and Shan States and the lack of humanitarian access to many of the more than 100,000 internally displaced persons in those areas,” read a statement from John Kirby, a US State Department spokesperson.

The Shan community in the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand are planning a prayer ceremony and candlelight vigil on Thursday evening for those killed and displaced in the October offensive.