TNLA Puts Abducted Shan Woman ‘on Trial’

By Nyein Nyein 4 September 2018

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) said on Monday it had put on trial a Shan woman whom it took from her home at gunpoint last month in Namhkam Township, northern Shan State.

Nang Mo Hom is being tried in the TNLA’s central court for allegedly obstructing its troops as they performed their duties, the group said.

Five TNLA troops arrested Nang Mo Hom at gunpoint on Aug. 17. Since then she has not been able to meet her family, despite demands for her release by local civil society groups.  A Shan political party, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), on Aug. 27 sent a letter to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi requesting that she intervene, in her capacity as the head of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), to assist Nang Mo Hom.

The TNLA said in a Sept. 3 statement that Nang Mo Hom had been charged under its own authority with obstructing its troops as they attempted to collect customs duties, and that her actions had resulted in the death of one of the officers.

TNLA spokesman Mai Aik Kyaw told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF)/TNLA court would hear the case against the woman, who was charged by the group under Article 333 of Myanmar’s Criminal Code. When it came time to hand down a verdict, the spokesman said, the TNLA court “would try to make it a public hearing held before members of the public, including the family of the woman.” He did not say when the verdict was expected.

Mai Aik Kyaw said Nang Mo Hom had committed a crime under the law as enforced by the TNLA. He was referring to an incident in July 2017 when two TNLA soldiers were attacked by the Myanmar Army for allegedly extorting money from local businesses in Namhkam Township.

Relatives of Nang Mo Hom said the TNLA had been extorting money from them for two years until July 2017, when one TNLA soldier was shot dead and another arrested and imprisoned in Lashio Prison after demanding 1 million kyats from the family.

The TNLA’s announcement on Monday raised eyebrows, with observers asking how an organization that itself operates outside the country’s laws could justify putting a woman on trial for breaking “its laws”.

Addressing this point, Mai Aik Kyaw said, “As we are an armed group and not a ceasefire group, we cannot seek justice at the official township court.” Therefore, they arranged their own justice, he said.

“The hearing is ongoing. On the day of the verdict we will invite her [Nang Mo Hom’s] family and relatives to attend,” he told The Irrawaddy.

SNLD spokesman Sai Leik raised doubts about the legitimacy of the move. “The question is whether they have the legal and judicial authority,” Sai Leik said, adding that, as the TNLA’s administration lacks legitimacy, “how can we acknowledge their judgment?”

“We do not recognize their judiciary, which is illegal and run by an illegal organization,” Sai Leik said, adding that the SNLD, as a registered political party, cannot directly communicate with TNLA and had therefore sought the NRPC’s intervention.

However, the NRPC is unlikely to be able to intervene in the case. As with most affairs in conflict-torn Shan State, such issues usually require the involvement of the armed forces, on both the government and the ethnic groups’ sides.

Sai Leik told The Irrawaddy the NRPC had not responded to their request yet, though it was submitted over a week ago.

The Irrawaddy was unable to contact NRPC vice chairman Dr. Tin Myo Win, who is also chairman of the Peace Commission and the government’s chief negotiator with the ethnic armed organizations. Other members of the commission contacted by The Irrawaddy declined to comment.

Sai Leik called for an end to the fighting in Shan State, especially in the north, saying the TNLA and its allies had deliberately turned the area into a “war zone” in order to protect their interests.

“If things are allowed to develop in that direction, the chances of peace will get more remote, and this only harms the public, and social tensions between the ethnic groups will only escalate,” the SNLD spokesman said.

Since the TNLA’s abduction of the Shan woman, a war of words has erupted among Facebook users supporting either the Shan or Ta’ang, who accuse each other’s armed forces of human rights violations. It is hard to verify whether individual social media users are actually Ta’ang or Shan, however.

Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Shan State, abductions, extortion, communal conflict