RANGOON — The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) released 11 suspected militia members on Monday in Namtu Township, Shan State, local sources reported.
The TNLA had detained the 11 Mong Kat village residents since Nov. 21, following a clash between the TNLA and soldiers of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) near Mong Kat. The TNLA suspected the 11 were actually militia members for the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), the political wing of the SSA-S, so it took them prisoner.
“Yesterday we released the 11 RCSS militia members,” said TNLA Spokesman Col. Tar Phone Kyaw. “The SNLD said they were civilians, but we caught them last month at the Mongbaw battlefield when we raided the RCSS camps. So now we have turned them over to the local Shan leaders.”
The release of 11 Mong Kat villagers came a day after the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) publicly condemned the TNLA’s actions.
The SNLD demanded that the TNLA release 35 detainees, including 11 from Namtu and 24 others from Kyaukme Township. Some of the Kyaukme prisoners are members of the SNLD political party.
The SNLD has worked on improving relations between ethnic groups, such as the Shan and Palaung (Ta’ang). The party recently criticized the Shan State parliament after it voted to label the Northern Alliance ethnic armed groups—of which the TNLA is a member—as “terrorist organizations.”
However, the TNLA still has not released the 24 detainees from Pan Kwan village, Kyaukme Township.
Col. Tar Phone Kyaw said there was an ongoing investigation regarding the remaining 24 civilians who were taken on Dec. 10.
“We have a new military recruitment policy for our party,” he said. “We only recruit soldiers from amongst our Ta’ang people. We do not recruit from the Shan. We are still checking on the ground to figure out what is the situation of the arrested people in Kyaukme. If they are Shan, we will release them.”
“They took 24 people in total from the village. Most of them were youth, and one was a sixth grade student,” said Sai Tun Win, an ethnic Shan lawmaker from Kyaukme.
Another 138 people fled from their homes in Pan Kwan village and took refuge at a Buddhist monastery in Kyaukme town because they were afraid of the TNLA soldiers.
“Pan Kwan village is not an ethnic Shan village; it is a Palaung village,” said Col. Tar Phone Kyaw. “Our Ta’ang people are required to join the TNLA military service. This is our policy.”