The Irrawaddy

After Fighting in Northern Shan, Displaced Families Still Scared to Head Home

YANGON — Nearly a month since the latest round of fighting broke out between two ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State, displaced families have yet to return to their homes for fear of being recruited and extorted.

More than 800 people fled their homes in Kyaukme Township amid fighting between the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) from March 10 to 20 near the village of Tew Phe, Sai Tun Nyan, a Shan State parliamentarian, told The Irrawaddy.

“Some don’t want to go back because armed groups recruit and extort money from them,” he said.

The TNLA, RCSS, Shan State Progress Party and two local militia are all active in the area.

The threat of landmines is deterring their return as well, said U Tin Maung Thein, chairman of the Jivitadana social organization.

“There were casualties and damage to their houses during the fighting. They saw mortar shells falling near them and their houses burning. They were quite frightened,” he said.

Locals make a living by growing tea plants, and the harvest season will end soon. But locals are too afraid to return to their plantations because of the armed groups, U Tin Maung Thein said.

“They have no money because they can’t pluck tea leaves,” he said.

Twenty-two locals from Mansan village, 430 from Tew Phe village and 428 from Onmwe village fled their homes for Kyaukme Town on March 13 and have been getting by on odd jobs since.

“Some of their houses were completely burned,” said Sai Tun Nyan, adding that he had reported the situation to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

U Tin Maung Thein said he was also concerned that the fighting may escalate into racial violence between ethnic Shan and Palaung residents because of instigation on social media.

The two armed groups have been fighting on and off over disputed territory since November 2015.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.