CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) shot dead at least four ethnic Pa-O in southern Shan State on Tuesday in what the armed group said was self-defense.
RCSS spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sai Meng said the four were shot dead after they attacked the armed group’s fighters with knives and tried to steal their firearms in Loilem Township.
“The dead were from a Pa-O militia led by Koyin based in Htam Sam cave,” he told The Irrawaddy.
The spokesman said Koyin was a Pa-O monk who has been in command of another armed group in the area for the past 20 years or so.
Lt. Col. Sai Meng said the RCSS fighters had initially stopped the group because they suspected one of them was a spy for the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw.
“We saw photos that showed that our troops were chopped. So in self-defense they killed those four people near Seng Ngun village,” he said.
The RCSS spokesman blamed the deaths ultimately on what he described as the military’s efforts to sow discord among the area’s ethnic groups.
“We think the Tatmadaw is creating this misunderstanding between the Shan and Pa-O and it needs to be solved. It should not happen,” he said.
The Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), yet another armed group in the area, gave a different account.
According to a PNLO statement and spokesperson, four Pa-O villagers were out searching for a new water source for Seng Ngun Village (also known as Namp Hu) when they were detained by a combined force of RCSS fighters and other militia members. They said the RCSS fighters and militia members shot dead a total of five people and injured three others when more Pa-O confronted them to demand that the four people they had detained be released.
In its statement, the PNLO said it “condemned the RCSS for this incident because it committed murderous crimes by arbitrarily arresting, killing and injuring people.”
It said one of the injured was being treated at a hospital in Loilem and that the other two were taken to a hospital in Taunggyi, the state capital.
Khun Nay Htoo, acting director of the Pa-O Health Working Committee, said one of the injured men taken to Taunggyi was an employee of Seng Ngun’s village administration office.
The RCSS denied that its fighters were accompanied by any militia members when the confrontation occurred.
The Pa-O in southern Shan State say they come under frequent threat from the RCSS and often fall victim to its landmines.
The PNLO accused the RCSS of setting a fire at a monastery in Mong Pan Township that killed two novice monks on Nov. 7, which the RCSS denied.
The two armed groups briefly fought with one another in Mong Pan the month before. The PNLO said it had recently sent its fighters into the area at the request of a local village that said the RCSS as conscripting its residents.
Pa-O community leaders say such incidents are severely deteriorated trust between the local Shan and Pa-O.
“We would like to ask the leaders of our country if they will do anything while innocent civilians are being brutally killed,” Khun Nay Htoo said. “There must be an investigation and effective actions must be taken against those who are responsible.”