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.
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.
Myanmar residents wait at the border immigration crossing in Muse, Shan State yesterday, hoping to get into China’s Yunnan province.
Motorcycles pass outside the Muse township police station, which was attacked on November 21.