Thou­sands flee to China amid Muse fight­ing

Con­tin­ued of­fen­sives by a joint eth­nic armed force in north­ern Shan State, in­clud­ing a shoot­ing at­tack on a police sta­tion, has Myan­mar civil­ians pour­ing across the bor­der.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - LIL­LIAN KALISH THU THU AUNG YE MON news­room@mm­times.com

NEARLY 3000 Myan­mar civil­ians have poured over the bor­der into China, flee­ing a resur­gence of fight­ing in north­ern Shan State af­ter four eth­nic armed groups mounted a joint of­fen­sive on Novem­ber 20.

China is pro­vid­ing shel­ter and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to the dis­placed at makeshift camps along the bor­der, according to Chi­nese state me­dia re­ports. Five monas­ter­ies in Myan­mar are also tak­ing in the dis­placed, according to the State Coun­sel­lor Of­fice’s In­for­ma­tion Com­mit­tee.

“About 3000 cit­i­zens from Myan­mar’s side of the bor­der have en­tered China,” Geng Shuang, a spokesper­son for the Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry, said at a press brief­ing yes­ter­day.

The fight­ing be­gan on Novem­ber 20 when an al­liance made up of sol­diers from the Ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army, the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army, the Myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army and the Arakan Army launched an at­tack on 10 tar­gets in Muse and Kutkai town­ships.

At least 10 civil­ians have been killed in the clashes over the past three days, according to the State Coun­sel­lor Of­fice’s In­for­ma­tion Com­mit­tee.

According to the Tat­madaw, heavy fight­ing con­tin­ued around Muse town­ship yes­ter­day, with police and sol­diers boost­ing se­cu­rity around the bor­der trade hub.

“We will fight back against th­ese armed groups,” a Tat­madaw spokesper­son said yes­ter­day.

On Novem­ber 21, the al­lied eth­nic armed groups at­tacked the Muse town­ship police sta­tion around 9pm, according to Police Ma­jor Soe Than. No one was in­jured, he said, but the sta­tion’s win­dows and doors were rid­dled with bul­lets.

“They [the al­lied groups] are threat­en­ing us and their shoot­ing is caus­ing the peo­ple to be afraid,” said Pol Maj Soe Than from the Muse police sta­tion.

Yes­ter­day, a bus driver was al­legedly shot dead near the 105-mile post.

“He didn’t pass the check­point at the 105-mile post. No one is al­lowed to go past it. When he [the truck driver] got too close the eth­nic armed groups shot him,’’ said Sai Loon Nao, sec­re­tary of the Shan Youth Or­gan­i­sa­tion in Muse.

Amid the in­creased hos­til­i­ties, Muse has emp­tied.

A ru­mour yes­ter­day spread through the bor­der town that a 12pm cur­few would go into ef­fect. Lo­cal of­fi­cials and the Tat­madaw said no such of­fi­cial order was put in place, but the po­ten­tial sig­nal of more heavy fight­ing drove fright­ened lo­cals to lock up their homes and flee.

“Af­ter the mes­sage spread that shops might have to close at 12pm, peo­ple feared that even big­ger clashes would break out. A lot of peo­ple im­me­di­ately crossed to the Chi­nese side of the bor­der. The town has be­come sig­nif­i­cantly qui­eter,” Sai Loon Nao said.

It was un­clear how the cur­few ru­mour started.

“There is no of­fi­cial order from the town­ship level or from the se­cu­rity forces to close up shops,” said Muse district ad­min­is­tra­tor U Kyaw Kyaw Tun.

U Lin Yaung Htein, a res­i­dent of Muse town­ship, said, “We are scared that more fight­ing will hap­pen in Muse town­ship. Now, the trad­ing has stopped be­cause of the fight­ing.”

U Hla Aung, a res­i­dent of Kutkai, said the re­cent of­fen­sive has made ev­ery­one skit­tish and on “high alert”.

“A lot of ru­mours are spread­ing about the clashes,” he said.

Those flee­ing into Yun­nan prov­ince were met by Blue Sky Res­cue, China’s largest dis­as­ter re­lief NGO, which is pro­vid­ing wa­ter, food and tem­po­rary shel­ter, according to Chi­nese state me­dia.

Zhu Minyun, the leader of the De­hong fac­tion of Blue Sky Res­cue, told China Ra­dio In­ter­na­tional that 1100 peo­ple have fled into the town of Wand­ing and more than 2000 are in neigh­bour­ing Mang­hai. The hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion is also tak­ing in­jured peo­ple to nearby hos­pi­tals.

“The scale of the fight­ing is rel­a­tively big this time and it came as quite a sur­prise in the first place … Un­like pre­vi­ous fights, which usu­ally took place in the moun­tain­ous ar­eas in Myan­mar, the con­flict is cen­tred mostly in ur­ban ar­eas this time,” Zhu Minyun was quoted as say­ing.

Last year, tens of thou­sands of refugees from the Kokang re­gion, mostly eth­nic Chi­nese, like­wise fled across the bor­der into China af­ter fight­ing erupted be­tween the MNDAA and the Tat­madaw on Fe­bru­ary 9. In both in­stances, China ac­cepted the refugees, and ramped up se­cu­rity along the bor­der.

Ear­lier this week, the Chi­nese em­bassy in Myan­mar urged all par­ties to “ex­er­cise re­straint” and to seek out an “im­me­di­ate cease­fire” to en­sure peace­ful re­la­tions on the shared bor­der.

The em­bassy also cau­tioned all Chi­nese cit­i­zens re­sid­ing in Myan­mar to pay close at­ten­tion to the con­flict and avoid vis­it­ing ar­eas of ac­tive con­flict.

The north­ern Shan State of­fen­sice marks a blow to the civil­ian Na­tional League for Democ­racy govern­ment’s re­cent peace over­tures to the na­tion’s eth­nic armed groups, and puts a ma­jor dent in plans to start na­tion­al­level po­lit­i­cal di­a­logues within the month.

None of the groups in­volved in the at­tack has a bi­lat­eral cease­fire agree­ment with the govern­ment, nor were any of the four sig­na­to­ries to last year’s na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment. The TNLA, the MNDAA and the AA have been ex­cluded from the for­mal peace process, while the KIA has been en­gaged in a pro­tracted con­flict with the Tat­madaw since 2011.

Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Karen Na­tion Union, said that the out­break of fight­ing in Shan State threat­ens to desta­bilise the peace process, and added that all par­ties in­volved should im­me­di­ately cease hos­til­i­ties and ne­go­ti­ate.

“Each group should fo­cus on the peace process. If not, the fight­ing will keep go­ing into the fu­ture,” he said.

Photo: AFP

Myan­mar res­i­dents wait at the bor­der im­mi­gra­tion cross­ing in Muse, Shan State yes­ter­day, hop­ing to get into China’s Yun­nan prov­ince.

Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon

Mo­tor­cy­cles pass out­side the Muse town­ship police sta­tion, which was at­tacked on Novem­ber 21.

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