Shan Villagers Flee Alleged Forced Recruitment by Ethnic Army

By Nang Seng Nom 28 May 2015

RANGOON — Villagers in eastern Burma’s Shan State have been fleeing en masse amid an alleged forced recruitment drive by a non-state armed group, according to local aid workers.

As many as 700 people may have fled from Theinse village tract in Nansang Township, local volunteer Sai Tun Sein told The Irrawaddy. He said people from eight villages have sought shelter in Taunggyi and Nansang since the recruitment began in mid-May.

“[Armed men] recruited 50 to 70 people per village, and the villagers fled because they were scared. At present, more than 120 people have been taken [by the soldiers],” said Sai Tun Sein, who is now in Nansang assisting those who relocated.

Villagers told Sai Tun Sein and other volunteers that the soldiers, who appeared to be members of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), visited homes, removed young men by force and physically assaulted those who tried to flee.

The RCSS/SSA is an ethnic armed group based in southern Shan State, which is currently engaged in union-level peace negotiations with the government. The group’s spokesman, Sai Hla, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that he was unaware of any such forced recruitment by RCSS forces.

Ting Maung Toe, chairman of the Taunggyi chapter of the National League for Democracy (NLD), confirmed that hundreds of villagers had arrived in the state capital in recent weeks. He said that more than 500 people were sheltering at Htan San Cave Pagoda, while about 100 were at a monastery in Nansang. At least 50 more were in Hopang Township, he said.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy by phone from a shelter in Taunggyion Tuesday, U Maung from Hlaing Hkar village described the scene before he fled.

“We left because soldiers bearing the insignia of the white tigers [a familiar name for the RCSS/SSA] came to recruit our villagers. People had also beenrecruited in nearby Naungbu village, and some girls fled. The soldiers told us they would take the women if there were no men in the village,” U Maung said.

The area is also occupied by a number of local militias including the Shan Nationalities People’s Liberation Organization and the Pa-O Liberation Army. The RCSS/SSA, southern Shan State’s dominant ethnic armed group, has an estimated force of about 6,000 troops.

The group was among the first of Burma’s ethnic armies to reach a new bilateral ceasefire with the government in 2011, and is a participant in ongoing peace talks geared toward a nationwide accord. The RCSS is not, however, a member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), the country’s ethnic negotiating bloc in peace talks with the government.