Upswing in Shan State fighting drives 2000 from their homes
RENEWED fighting between the Tatmadaw and nationwide ceasefire signatory Restoration Council of Shan State is again overshadowing the peace process and threatening to undermine recent efforts at negotiation.
The clashes erupted on October 1 and have already driven 2000 IDPs from their homes to seek refuge in Mine Kaing/Mong Kung township, Shan State.
According to an RCSS commander, the Tatmadaw has released a barrage of heavy artillery that continued as of yesterday afternoon.
“Until now, the fighting has not ceased. They are shooting with heavy weapons from a position on the hill above the Pang Poi village tract, where our troops are stationed,” said the RCSS commander, who asked that his name not be used. “Locals do not dare to stay here anymore; they have fled to a safer area.”
Since the National League for Democracy launched its incipient peace process with the 21st-century Panglong Conference last month, several battles have flared and old tensions reemerged, with fighting in Shan and Kachin states escalating, and conflict erupting anew in Kayin State.
According to the RCSS commander, the Tatmadaw entered Pang Poi, in RCSS-controlled territory, on October 1. The Tatmadaw soldiers scoured a drug rehabilitation centre jointly operated by the RCSS and a local CSO, and then opened fired on the RCSS, he said.
The following day, October 2, 950 civilians fled to a nearby monastery. “By October 3, the number of IDPs grew to 2000 staying at two monasteries in Mine Kaing township,” said an officer from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy in Taunggyi who also asked to remain unnamed. “The SNLD is trying to support the refugees by asking for humanitarian help from the Shan community.”
The RCSS commander said that 20 villages are situated in Pang Poi, Mine Kaing township. The villages have mostly emptied while the Kyaung Jan and Kyaung Hong monasteries are providing shelter to the IDPs, who remain in need of food and other supplies.
The RCSS is one of just eight ethnic armed groups to have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement with the previous government late in 2015. Since signing the peace deal, the RCSS has clashed with the Tatmadaw on three occasions, including once before in Mine Kaing township.
“This time is the worst case of fighting,” said the commander. “The RCSS has already been welcomed to the peace negotiations, so there is no need for more military offensives. Only discussions can solve our differences.”