Ten Missing Ta’ang Villagers Held by RCSS, Rights Groups Say

By Lawi Weng 8 March 2019

Ta’ang rights groups have accused the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) of detaining 10 ethnic Ta’ang residents of Mann Lee village in northern Shan State’s Namtu Township.

The 10 went missing after fighting broke out between rival ethnic armed groups in Mann Lee on March 1. According to the groups, a phone memory card found at the scene of the clash contained images of the missing villagers.

A family member of one of the missing found the card in a phone that had been left in the village and took it to the Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO).

Lway Poe Jae, joint secretary of the Ta’ang Students and Youth Union (TSYU), told The Irrawaddy on Friday that, “Our evidence is mainly from the villager who came to give the memory card to us. When we checked the memory card, we found they [the RCSS] had detained those 10 people.”

The images show the missing villagers sitting down with their hands tied by rope and blindfolded. Armed men dressed in civilian clothes stand behind the victims, she said.

The TSYU and the TWO issued a joint statement announcing the discovery of the photos and accusing the RCSS of detaining the 10. It demanded that they be released.

Lway Poe Jae said local residents had identified the armed men in the photos as RCSS members.

The 10 disappeared on March 1 after the village became caught in fighting between the RCSS and a joint force of Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) troops. The fighting caused the population of the village to flee. Two people who had stayed behind to take care of property and another eight villagers who were among those who fled were all later reported missing.

The TSYU and TWO said they would ask other rights groups including those from the Shan and international communities to lobby the RCSS to release the villagers.

Colonel Sai Oo, a spokesperson for the RCSS, denied the group is holding the missing villagers.

“We did not arrest them,” he said. He added that he had read the statement by the TSYU and TWO, but found the account of finding a memory card hard to believe.

“Their armed group [the TNLA] sometimes arrests its own people but blames us,” he said.

No one benefits from arresting civilians, he said, before calling on armed groups to help local residents.

Col. Sai Oo added that if his group had arrested any civilians, and if they were found to have done nothing wrong, the group would release them.

The fighting between ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State has inflamed tensions between ethnic Shan and Ta’ang in the region. At least 40 people have disappeared in Namtu Township since fighting broke out between the TNLA and the RCSS in the area, according to Ta’ang rights groups.

The RCSS is an ethnic Shan armed group historically based in Loi Tai Lang, southern Shan State. However, it has begun to exert control in areas in northern Shan since signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the Myanmar government in 2015.

The TNLA has been the RCSS’ main rival among the ethnic groups in the area, but the SSPP, a Shan ethnic armed group based in northern Shan State, has staged attacks against the RCSS of late too.

The TNLA and SSPP are members of the Northern Alliance bloc of armed groups. They have joined forces to attack the RCSS and defend their areas of control. Both the TNLA and SSPP accuse the RCSS of occupying their areas of control.

The two armed groups are trying to kick the RCSS out of northern Shan State. The RCSS retains small areas of control in Namtu and Hsipaw townships. Over 2,000 IDPs have fled villages in Namtu and Hsipaw amid ongoing clashes in the area.