On NCA signing day, hundreds mourn death and displacement of civilians attacked by Burma Army in Shan State


Around 250 people gathered at a temple in Chiang Mai on Thursday evening for a vigil dedicated to victims of a Burma Army attack near an eastern Shan State mining site, and to the 1,500 villagers displaced by military offensives in the state’s central region this month.

3.hundreds mourn death and displacement in shan state
Monks at Thursday’s vigil view a display of photos depicting ongoing military abuses in Shan State. (S.H.A.N)

The event coincided with the signing of Burma’s controversial Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), between eight—out of more than twenty—ethnic armed organizations, and the government.

“This is just a reflection of the reality of what is happening on the ground,” said Charm Tong, a spokesperson for a coalition of 18 Shan community-based organizations (CBOs), on the timing of the vigil which they also organized.

Military offensives in central Shan State

Since October 6, less than ten days before the signing of the NCA, S.H.A.N. reported that the Burma Army has been launching artillery shells into territories largely under the control of the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N), causing widespread civilian displacement. The attacks intensified on October 11, targeting the SSPP/SSA-N headquarters in Wan Hai, Kesi Township; the armed group is among many others who opted out of signing the NCA, citing a lack of inclusivity.

In a statement released yesterday at the vigil, the Shan CBO coalition described the NCA as a “divide-and-rule tactic” intended to “temporarily pacify” some ethnic armies while “crushing others.”

1.hundreds mourn death and displacement in shan state
Attendees participate in a Buddhist prayer ceremony at the vigil. (S.H.A.N)

“Over 1,000 [civilians] are sheltering in nearby villages, while hundreds are hiding in the jungles,” reported the coalition. “Four women have given birth in hiding places; one in a cave,” the statement read.

Attacks on villagers opposed to gold mining

On Tuesday, two days before the NCA signing, Burma Army Battalion 330 opened fire on 20 villagers at a gold mine in the Loi Kham Hills near Nar Hai Long village, leaving one 50-year-old man dead and five others seriously injured.

According to a statement released by the Shan Farmers’ Network (SFN) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) on Wednesday, the villagers were monitoring the activities of Loi Kham Long Mining Company, which were supposed to have halted in July 2014 due to adverse effects to both the land and local people’s health.

The manager of the mining company allegedly called the local military battalion for assistance when he saw the villagers approaching. About 20 soldiers confronted the civilians, reportedly firing at them as they were leaving the mining site.

“Appalled” by the incident, SFN and SHRF are demanding that authorities “take immediate action to punish those responsible for the attack.”

“The [natural] resources are the background for the conflict,” said Sai Khur Hseng, spokesperson for Shan Sapawa, an environmental rights organization also belonging to the Shan CBO coalition hosting the vigil.

“When a company registers and gets permission [for a project] from the government, some people in the government become shareholders,” said Sai Khur Hseng, on why he suspects the military became involved in this incident. “Usually, it will be a high person, with authority.”

“The death of politics”

A teacher in the Shan community in Thailand described the collision of the ceasefire signing, the violence at the mining site and the attacks in central Shan State as “the death not only of civilians, but of politics.”

Vigil attendees place candles around a pagoda as a memorial to victims of Burma Army violence in Shan State. (S.H.A.N.)
Vigil attendees place candles around a pagoda as a memorial to victims of Burma Army violence in Shan State. (S.H.A.N.)

The coalition of Shan CBOs urged the international community to “publicly condemn” these Burma Army offensives, and to press the Burmese government to demilitarize its presence in ethnic areas. The NCA, it claimed, “will not bring peace.”

“The Naypyidaw government is not sincere about moving towards political dialogue,” said Charm Tong at Thursday’s vigil. “It’s really sad…the Burma Army can commit these crimes with impunity.”

By SAI AW and SIMMA FRANCIS / Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)

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