Series of Abductions by Ethnic Armed Groups Rattle Myanmar Ruby Town

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 7 December 2020

Yangon – Three abductions have been carried out by armed groups in Mogoke Township, Mandalay Township, in the last two months.

On Sunday, a 60-year-old woman from Kyauktalone village in Mogoke Township was seized by an armed group. Mogoke is a former ruby town about 115km north of Mandalay city.

The Shan State Army – North, the armed wing of the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), claimed responsibility for the abduction of a villager, alleging she was a drug dealer.

An SSPP representative told the Tachileik News Agency that it detained the woman after she refused to stop selling drugs.

The SSPP, which refuses to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the government, said it will only detain her temporarily.

The group has agreed to a state-level ceasefire with Myanmar’s military.
Sanpya Bakery owner and gems merchant U Kyaw Win, a prominent Mogoke figure, was abducted by an armed group on Dec. 4 while he driving near the town’s market.

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) claimed responsibility for U Kyaw Win’s kidnapping last Friday but has not revealed the reason behind the abduction.

The TNLA, based in northern Shan State, is actively fighting Myanmar’s army and is a member of the Northern Alliance, which has engaged in peace negotiations with the government.

The TNLA has been recruiting and taking a grip on the area since 2019. It has not signed a ceasefire with Myanmar’s authorities.

In October, the TNLA was accused of abducting a Mogoke resident, Daw Khin Myint Htay, from her home and demanding a ransom of 65 million kyats (US$49,000), the victim recently told The Irrawaddy.

Daw Khin Myint Htay said she was detained by the TNLA for 10 days until Oct. 26 and suffered repeated beatings.

U Aung Naing, the National League for Democracy’s Lower House lawmaker for the township, told The Irrawaddy that since 2015 the town has seen increasing activity by armed groups. Since 2018, extortion cases by the armed groups in the township had become more frequent.

U Aung Naing said: “It is because of the curse of treasures. Many people envy our town’s rubies and they think a lot of residents are rich. But no rubies are left because they were dug up by outsiders years ago.”

On Dec. 5, the City Elders Society of Mogoke Township asked armed groups to stop their extortion and abductions.

Its statement said the town is trying to develop as a tourist attraction but extortion and abductions by armed groups scared off investors.

U Win Naing of the society told The Irrawaddy on Monday residents are frightened of being kidnapped despite military patrols at night.

“We want to live peacefully,” he said.

Clashes between Myanmar’s military and TNLA occurred about 11km north of Mogoke on Nov. 24 and 25, prompting nearly 1,000 villagers to flee their homes and take shelter at Mogoke’s monasteries, churches and community halls and with relatives.

Some soldiers were killed and injured in the clashes, according to Myanmar’s military.

The Mogoke Township’s administrator, TNLA and SSPP could not be reached for comment on Monday.

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