CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The ethnic Shan community in this northern Thai city gathered on Thursday evening to pray and light candles for hundreds of people affected by recent fighting in central Shan State. Eighteen Shan community-based groups organized the event at the Buddhist temple Wat Ku Tao, to call attention to a situation affecting at least six villages across four townships in Burma.
More than 1,500 villagers have been displaced since the Burma Army launched an offensive against the militant wing of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), on Oct. 6. Three pregnant women displaced by the fighting were recently forced to give birth in the jungle and another had her baby in a cave.
The vigil was held the same day that a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement was signed by the government and leaders of eight rebel armed groups. The accord has been widely criticized for failing to represent the majority of the country’s armed groups—almost two-thirds have refused to sign it, or been shut out of the deal.
Nang Charm Tong, a spokesperson for Thursday’s vigil, questioned the sincerity of government claims to be working toward peace, given the recent fighting taking place even as Naypyidaw has touted the nationwide ceasefire as a milestone in efforts to end decades of civil war.
“We want to expose what is happening on the ground,” she said. “There is no peace for our people, it is very clear. They [the Burma Army] are continuing their attacks in ceasefire areas. It’s outrageous.”
She highlighted a recent incident in which the Burma Army opened fire on villagers at a gold mine in eastern Shan State, killing one man and injuring five others.
Some of the villagers displaced by fighting this month are being cared for at a Buddhist temple, or have sought shelter with relatives. Others are hiding in the jungle.
Fighting that came before crops could be harvested is likely to worsen food security for hundreds of affected families.
In their statement, the Shan community-based organizations accused the Burma Army of “indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, and the forced displacement of civilians,” calling the attacks “a systematic military operation over the past few years by Naypyidaw to seize territory from the SSPP/SSA.”
There have been more than 200 clashes with the Burma Army since the SSPP and SSA-N inked a ceasefire with the Burmese government in 2012.