Schools Closed, Villagers Flee Amid Fighting in Myanmar’s Northeast

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint & Htet Naing Zaw 20 August 2019

YANGON—Over 3,400 people from Lashio, Theinni and Kutkai townships, in northern Shan State, have been displaced by recent conflicts between ethnic armed organizations and the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, local volunteer groups told The Irrawaddy.

The groups, which are now assisting the displaced, told The Irrawaddy that people began arriving at camps opened in monasteries in the three towns over the weekend.

U Haung Dawng, secretary of the Joint Committee of Northern Shan State Social Volunteer Groups, told The Irrawaddy that over 2,700 locals have taken refuge in the monasteries of Tayyar, Pannar, Makkinu, Hmine Tin and Mansu, in Lashio.

In Kutkai 300 have sought refuge and in Theinni, 480.

Those numbers, collected on Monday evening, do not included those staying with friends and relatives. Volunteer groups say they fear the number will rise.

“The shooting can still be heard in Kutkai. No shootings were heard in Lashio but armed groups are still involved in confrontations there,” said U Haung Dawng.

Another volunteer told The Irrawaddy that residents of a village outside of Lashio have fled en masse, though no fighting had been reported there.

“There is enough food and clothing and enough space to accommodate the displaced for now, but if the conflict doesn’t end soon, we will face difficulties,” said U Than Zaw, a volunteer with Lashio-based Beautiful Heart.

All schools in the region outside of large city centers have closed out of security concerns.

“Over 150 school-aged children have fled there. We worry the conflict will last long enough to disrupt their education,” U Than Zaw said. “Depending on the situation, we will arrange to teach them at the camps. We hope the conflict doesn’t last long and the region regains safety and stability soon.”

Locals report that soldiers from both the Tatmadaw and the Northern Alliance (NA)—a group of ethnic armed organizations across northern Myanmar—have traveled by their villages.

Naung Cho, Kyaukme, Lashio, Kutkai and Theinni townships, where armed clashes broke out over the weekend, have been deserted.

Bridges connecting Kunlun and Hopan townships on the Lashio-Muse Highway were destroyed in fighting, cutting off trade and sending the price of basic commodities upward.

“A bag of rice that [normally] costs 30,000 kyats is now 100,000 to 150,000 kyats. Some shops don’t even have it. It’s become the major, ground-level challenge,” U Haung Dawng said.

He urged armed groups not to engage in actions that hurt local populations, and to allow volunteer groups to move freely.

The military said the TNLA attacked a security post at Namt Khite Bridge, about 100 meters (128 feet) south of Namtphatkar Township, in Kutkai, on Monday.

“There were two confrontation with the TNLA there but no casualties, they just shot and ran,” military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said. “There was also an armed confrontation with the TNLA and our troops about 8,000 meters (nearly 5 miles) south of Kutkkai Township, where again they just shot and ran and no one was injured.”

TNLA spokesperson Major Mai Aike Kyaw confirmed the confrontation locations to the Irrawaddy but said he “cannot tell the details [of it] yet.”

He said the attacks involve not just the TNLA but two other members of the Northern Alliance—the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDA).

The government’s Peace Commission has invited the Northern Alliance—which includes the TNLA, the MNDAA, the AA and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—to meet this month to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

The commission and the alliance have met several times over the past year, both formally and informally, but have yet to reach agreement on a bilateral ceasefire.

A series of attacks last week by the TNLA and its allies—on a Tatmadaw training academy in Mandalay Region’s Pyin Oo Lwin Township, a toll gate in Shan State’s Naung Cho Township, and on a bridge along an important highway connecting travelers and traders from the Chinese border across central Myanmar—opened the new battle grounds in northern Shan State.

According to the military, fresh fighting in the wake of these attacks has killed nine soldiers, three police and three civilians and inflicted damages worth around 2.8 billion kyats kyats.

Translated and additional reporting by Zarni Mann.

You may also like these stories:

Will Myanmar’s Formal Peace Negotiations Get Back on Track?

Rebel Strikes Cast Shadow on China’s BRI Projects in Myanmar

China Condemns Myanmar’s Ethnic Rebels for Shan State Fighting

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