A Shan rights group has reported that the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) is building a new military strategic road in southern Shan State which threatens the safety of 200 Shan internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Loi Lam area, near the northern Thai border.
The Tatmadaw has used a drone to fly over the area of Loi Lam which is under the control of the ethnic armed group Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), and IDPs living in the area fear fighting may break out soon, according to the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) which is based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The ongoing road-building project will connect the village of Mong Hta to the Salween River, and is expected to be complete within two months.
“The road construction has almost reached the Salween River. They have been working on it for two or three months,” said Sai Yord Luen, a spokesperson for the SHRF.
The Tatmadaw took the opportunity to build this road after the RCSS signed the ceasefire in 2011. The new strategic road will link up to the town of Mong Pan, where the Myanmar army’s No. 17 Military Operations Command is based.
The SHRF statement said they are concerned about the safety of the 200 ethnic Shan IDPs living in the camp at Loi Lam.
Members of the Tatmadaw’s Infantry Battalion 293, used a drone to fly over the area of the IDP camp in mid-September. On Sept. 23, after Triangle Regional Commander Brigadier-General Khin Hlaing had arrived in a convoy of seven army trucks from the Infantry Battalion 249 base in Mong Taw, they again launched a drone from the same military camp.
“We are worried about the food supply and safety of the IDPs if fighting breaks out between the Tatmadaw and the RCSS,” said Sai Yord Luen.
International aid organizations stopped supplying aid to the IDPs last year, he said.
There are also United Wa State Army (UWSA) bases along the new road project, reported the SHRF. The new road project will make it easier for the Tatmadaw to attack the RCSS and the UWSA outposts and could also support contentious investments such as the planned Mong Ton Dam on the Salween River, where Chinese engineers from the Three Gorges Corporation have been surveying in secrecy since early 2018, according to the SHRF.
The Mong Ton Dam, a joint Chinese-Thai investment, is the largest of three dams planned on the Salween River in Shan State. 90 percent of the power produced will be exported to Thailand.
Loi Lam is one of six IDP and refugee camps along the Shan-Thai border, which house a total of over 6,000 displaced people, mostly women and children. International donors cut off food aid to these camps in October 2017, despite ongoing militarization and conflict in Shan State, which is preventing the IDPs and refugees from returning home.