Thousands flee Shan rebel conflict

Many people are unaware of the scale of Myanmar’s rebel armies. Source: Wikimedia


More than 3,000 villagers have fled their homes in war-torn northern Myanmar following clashes between two ethnic minority rebel groups, the United Nations has announced.

The government’s “national ceasefire agreement”, signed in October between the military and only eight of the 22 rebel groups operating in the country, now appears to be falling apart.

Heavy fighting in Shan State broke out earlier this month between the Restoration Council for Shan State (RCSS) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

The RCSS is one of the signatories to October’s ceasefire. The violence comes as Myanmar is negotiating the transition from military rule to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which won November’s general election.

“We are receiving reports that more than 3,000 people have been displaced in the past week,” said Mark Cutts of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

He said most of those displaced people were sheltering in monasteries in the town of Kyaukme and were depended on aid from domestic charities and the Myanmar Red Cross.

Farhan Haq, the deputy UN spokesperson, said: “The United Nations is liaising closely with the relevant authorities and UN humanitarian staff are assessing the situation to identify gaps and provide further aid if needed. The UN’s priority is to ensure that civilians are protected and that people affected by the conflict receive the humanitarian assistance that they need.”

Kyaukme’s Lower House MP Sai Tun Aung said refugees told him of teachers and pupils fleeing on foot to escape arrests, killings and arson attacks being carried out by “an armed group moving around the region”.

He did say which rebel group was responsible.

Myanmar’s government has tried with limited success to end decades of civil war between the military and the powerful rebel groups.

October’s ceasefire was limited to just eight groups because the government refused to sign peace deals with groups, including the TNLA, that were in conflict with its military at the time.

The RCSS says it wants to hold peace talks with the TNLA, which in turn claims the RCSS moved troops into its territory. Delegations of civilians that have approached the TNLA to negotiate have been taken hostage.

Suu Kyi’s party, which will form a government in April, has the challenge of implementing October’s tattered peace deal, appeasing the groups that did not sign it and satisfying the near universal demands from ethnic minorities for a “federal” system.

The Nobel peace laureate must also maintain her strained relationship with the still hugely powerful military. The military retains control of three major ministries: defence, home affairs and border security. It also makes up 25 per cent of the Parliament with its representatives, providing it with a veto on any constitutional change.