Twenty-three villagers are allegedly missing after over a week of clashes between the Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) and the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) in northern Shan State, according to local political representatives.
In a public statement released yesterday by the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) in Nam Kham Township, it was reported that the PSLF/TNLA had detained the missing civilians since the end of November—all of whom are men between the ages of 18 and 57, and whose whereabouts remain unknown.
The PSLF/TNLA’s News and Information Office denied arresting civilians or committing any act of torture during the conflict period.
The SNDP also implored the ethnic armed groups to stop fighting, after a series of clashes began on November 27 and continued into early December.
“As it is the time of peace building and citizen security, the RCSS/SSA-S and PSLF/TNLA [are requested] to stop the fighting and cease all hostilities immediately,” the statement said.
Both groups have alleged that they were “ambushed” by the other, in statements published by RCSS/SSA-S on the Tai Freedom website and by PSLF/TNLA on social media.
Battles occurred because RCSS/SSA-S entered PSLF/TNLA territory “without permission,” the latter alleged on December 6—citing Kyaukme, Namhsan, Manton and Nam Kham Townships as the areas where the TNLA is active. Five days earlier, on December 1, Tai Freedom reported that the RCSS/SSA-S soldiers were passing through the contested area in the Shweli River valley after returning from a workshop on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) held in the group’s base on the Thai-Burma border.
On December 3, Col. Sai Hla, spokesperson for the RCSS/SSA-S, told SHAN that his group has also been active in the Nam Kham area since 2005. “We were just going back to our territory,” he said.
Tension between the groups has been linked to the controversial NCA: the RCSS/SSA-S was one of the agreement’s eight signatories; the PSLF/TNLA was one of three groups disqualified by the government from signing it.
Since the NCA signing, the PSLF/TNLA described the RCSS/SSA-S as now “allied” with the Burma Army and alleged that three Burma Army battalions “protected” the RCSS/SSA-S as they shelled the PSLF/TNLA in recent clashes at the end of November. The RCSS/SSA-S denied these claims.
“The conflict between RCSS and TNLA is just a conflict between armed groups. It is not a conflict between Ta’ang people and Shan people,” the PSLF/TNLA wrote yesterday.
In central Shan State, 10,000 people—including Shan, Ta’ang, Lahu and Lisu villagers—remain displaced by fighting between the Burma Army and the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N), another group which opted out of signing the NCA, citing a lack of inclusivity.
Continued peace talks based on the NCA’s framework are scheduled to continue later this month.
By Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N) Staff