More Villagers Flee Fighting Between Rival Armed Groups in Northern Shan

By Lawi Weng 26 December 2018

Mon State — More than 600 people have fled their homes in northern Shan State’s Hsipaw Township since Monday to escape fighting between rival ethnic armed groups, according to a volunteer aid worker.

The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) were fighting on Monday and Tuesday in Twan Kyaing Village, about 32 km from the town of Hsipaw, said Sai Tun Aye, a volunteer aid workers helping families taking shelter at a Buddhist monastery in Namakhar Village. He said residents from three other villages have also fled their homes.

“The first group of about 10 IDPs [internally displaced persons] arrived at the monastery on Dec. 24. Then more and more people arrived yesterday, and there are now a total 686 people,” Sai Tun Aye said.

The volunteer said the first 10 were all tending their farms when the fighting broke out in their village and could not gather any supplies from their homes before fleeing. He said the villagers had no reports of fighting there on Wednesday morning but were not sure it was safe to return yet.

Sai Kham Maung, a lawmaker who represents Hsipaw in the state legislature, said the fighting was interrupting the seasonal rice harvest.

“They should stop fighting each other because it only hurts the local people,” he said.

The SSPP says it is trying to prevent the RCSS from establishing a foothold in northern Shan State because it has no right to operate in the area. The RCSS, which is based in southern Shan, claims the right to operate across the state.

Colonel Sai Oo, a spokesman for the RCSS, told The Irrawaddy that some SSPP fighters have defected since Monday and that some were captured.

The Irrawaddy could not reach the SSPP for comment.

The two groups, erstwhile allies in their fight against the Myanmar military, have been fighting each other regularly since October in Namtu, Kyaukme, Hsipaw and Lashio townships, with the SSPP sometimes joining forces with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army against the RCSS.

The SSPP withdrew the troops it had in Namtu, Kyaukme, Hsipaw, and Lashio townships in 2015 before moving them back later that year to fight off a Myanmar military offensive on its headquarters. The RCSS has been moving into the area since signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, also in 2015.