The Myanmar army remains extremely powerful. Source: Flickr
Thousands of civilians have fled their villages in Myanmar’s Shan State after fighting between ethnic minority rebel groups and government forces.
The recent clashes coincide with the transition between the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party government and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
Numerous rebel armies, who are demanding a federal system, contest ethnically diverse, mountainous Shan State. The incidents have seen violence between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) which has been fighting with both the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and government forces.
“Fighting has been breaking out about four times a day and there are about 8,000 people at the camps,” said Mai Myo Aung, an ethnic Ta’ang student helping the refugees.
The TNLA did not signed the government ceasefire last October although the RCSS did.
Suu Kyi has said ending Myanmar’s numerous civil wars would be a priority of her new administration when it took power next month.
“We ran away as Myanmar’s Tatmadaw [army] came into our village and started shooting with heavy weapons. Some are fleeing to the forest nearby. They are still there,” said Arr Hla, 35, from Mone La village, Kutkai township, where he is sheltering in a monastery with about 150 other refugees.
He said men feared being forced to serve as porters or guides to the army, which has long been accused of human-rights abuses.
A spokesman from the TNLA said fighting had increased with the government using jets and helicopters.
“We have made contact with the Myanmar army about 25 times already this month. This month fighting is the most serious fighting in years. The situation is really tense between us,” Major Mai Aik Kyaw said.
The Tatmadaw has released 46 child soldiers from service, the state media claimed.
In June 2012 pact it signed a deal with the UN to end child recruitment.
The 46 children were returned to their families at a ceremony in Yangon, the government-mouthpiece Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
“The military has released 744 underage recruits in 12 batches, including yesterday’s release,” it said.
“The Tatmadaw is committed to rid its ranks of underage soldiers,” Major General Tauk Tun reportedly said.
There are no independent figures on how many children are serving in the huge military. It is claimed child recruits have been used to work as porters or even human-landmine detectors.
The UN says at least seven of the 22 ethnic-minority rebel armies also recruit children.