YANGON — Nearly half of the roughly 1,500 people displaced by inter-ethnic fighting in Shan State’s Namtu Township on Monday have returned to their villages as of this morning or were on their way back, according to local lawmakers.
The villagers fled their homes for other villages in Namtu or neighboring Hsipaw Township when fighting broke out between the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army South (RCSS/SSAS) and a combined force from the Shan State Progressive Party/Stan State Army North (SSPP/SSAN) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
About 670 people who took shelters at the Bodaw and Moetay monasteries in Hsipaw have returned as of Friday or would be returning soon now that the fighting around their villages was over, said Nang San San Aye, a state lawmaker representing Hsipaw.
However, nearly 800 people who took shelter at monasteries in the villages of Panlon and Manlay in Namtu were still afraid to head back because fighters continued to patrol near their homes, according to Nang Sam Hom, a state lawmaker representing Namtu.
Nang Sam Hom told The Irrawaddy that the displaced families from five villages — Pan Hat, Manhsar, Man Khe, Man Pan and Nam Si Lin — were staying put for now.
She said 139 people were taking shelters in Panlon and 653 in Manlay and that they were all either ethnic Shan or Ta’ang.
“There is no safety for the local residents; our people have adapted to this,” Nang Sam Hom said.
“Many tend not to leave their homes unless there is heavy fighting,” either between the ethnic armed groups or between the groups and the Myanmar military, she added.
Some people displaced by earlier bouts of fighting in the region have been taking shelter in downtown Namtu for more than seven years and surviving mostly on the charity or local residents and aid groups, Nang Sam Hom said.
Shan State is home to a number of ethnic armed groups formed by ethnic Shan, Ta’ang, Kachin, Wa, Mongla or Kokang as well as various militias.
Most of the fighting has been between the SSAS and either the Myanmar military, TNLA or combined forces of the TNLA and SSAN.
RCSS spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sai Oo blamed the latest fighting on the TNLA and SSAN for moving into areas long claimed and controlled by his group.
“They [the TNLA and SSAN] don’t want the RCSS to be there,” he told The Irrawaddy.
The TNLA and SSAS have fought many times over the past few years amid on-and-off negotiations.
Over the past two weeks, the SSAS has also had clashes with the Myanmar military in southern Shan State’s Mong Kung Township that have displaced hundreds more.