As the combined force of Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) armed clashes with the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) rage on intensively starting from the last few weeks in earnest, due to territorial dispute, a personal tragedy that developed into political conflict and even brewing racial issue has hit the headlines and continues to drag on without possible end in sight.
The tragedy unfolded when Nang Mo Hom was arrested on August 17 from her home in Ho Noung quarter, Namkham and has been held in TNLA custody ever since.
Following the Shan public outcry to this untoward incidence among the Shan, especially where the Shan majority Namkham town is concerned, on August 24, five SSPP/SSA delegates led by Sao Naw Lek and a TNLA delegation led by Tar Aik Moung and Tar Pan La met to discuss the issue, an SSPP/SSA major, according to Shan Herald.
“This action has created a bad image for both the Shan and Ta’ang armies. That’s why we demanded the immediate release of Nang Mo Hom,” Maj Sai Sai said.
He explained that in the meeting, the TNLA representatives made it clear that they want Nang Mo Hom to “take responsibility” for her alleged role in the loss of a TNLA soldier last year. The incident, Maj Sai Sai said, refers to July 2017, when two Ta’ang soldiers reportedly collected 1,100,000 Kyats (US$716) in “tax” from Nang Mo Hom, who owns a small shop. Soon after leaving her house, the soldiers were ambushed by Burma Army troops—one was arrested and another killed.
On August 27, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) sent a letter to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi requesting that she intervene, in her capacity as the head of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), to assist Nang Mo Hom.
After nearly two weeks of inaction, on September 10, the NRPC released a three-point statement which acknowledges the incidence of August 17 abduction of Nang Mo Hom; the government’s concern of the incidence hurting the peace and national reconciliation; and demands of the release as soon as possible and also condemning the TNLA for endangering the public and breaching the rule of law.
Immediately after the NRPC statement, the TNLA’s information department spokesperson Major Mai Aik Kyaw told the media that there would be no response on NRPC statement and would go on as previously planned. He stressed: “I have nothing to add. The judiciary group is working on the things that ought to be done. And on the day of trail their parents and relatives meeting will be arranged. At the moment the situation is like this, no changes whatsoever.”
Earlier on September 3, the TNLA in its formal statement charged Nang Mo Hom under its own authority with obstructing its troops as they attempted to collect customs duties, and that her actions had resulted in the death of one of the officers and another wounded and arrested by the Tatmadaw, who is still in government’s custody.
Accordingly, the TNLA court would hear the case against the woman, charged by the group under Article 333 of Myanmar’s Criminal Code.
This announcement raised eyebrows as an organization operating outside the country’s laws could justify with breaking its own promulgated laws, which is highly unlikely to be in existence.
Perhaps, SNLD spokesperson Sai Leik might have pointed out the problematic much clearer when he said: “ In reality Article 333 is only used to take actions if the government’s civil servants are being hurt or attacked,” and further stressed, “the TNLA which is not the signatory of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and outside of the law cannot make use of the (governmental) law.”
He added: “In Nang Mo Hom case the roots of the problem has to be analyzed and not only looking at a tree but to observe the whole forest, as it could become racial conflict.”
Sai Leik called on the warring parties to end the fighting, as if things are allowed to develop further along the present line, the chances of peace will be remote and social tensions between the ethnic groups will escalate.
Territorial and racial conflicts
This incidence is unfolding while the inter-ethnic war is going on between the TNLA/SSPP and the RCSS, which has been escalating ever since the SSPP joined the TNLA a few months ago in routing out the RCSS from northern Shan State, which they claimed were being infringed by it (RCSS), whose staging ground is supposed to be only in the southern part of Shan State.
The TNLA has been battling the RCSS, shortly after the latter signed the NCA in October 2015, accusing it for intruding into its areas of operation. But the RCSS countered that it has been operating in the area since 2005 and hundreds of its reinforcement that the TNLA claimed coming from the south were in fact the Shans from the north that have finished their military training at its headquarters in Loi Tai Leng for months and were returning home to Namkham area, when they were ambushed by the TNLA forces in November 2015. Since then the inter-ethnic conflict has been going on until today.
This conflict becomes more complicated as the RCSS and SSPP are Shan armies and the SSPP joining the TNLA to battle the RCSS infuriated the Shan people in general. Besides, since the expansion of the TNLA just only a few years back from a few hundreds to some four to five thousand, reportedly financed by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) or Kokang and the United Wa State Army (UWSA), and its troops riding roughshod over the Shan population, the racial harmony that has existed for hundreds of years began to wane or call into question. This incidence of abduction is now becoming a sparking-point which could bloom into full racial conflict if unable to handle properly. Even now hate posting in social media from both sides -Ta’ang and the Shan – are poisoning the once harmoniously living two racial groups.
In short, the conflict has pitted Shan against Ta’ang or Palaung and also Shan against Shan, with some backing the SSPP and the other the RCSS, so much so that the Executive Council of Shan Sangha based in Panglong held Shan State-wide praying ceremony on August 20 for peace and reconciliation among Shan, including other ethnic groups within Shan State and beyond.
Given such complicated and overlapping conflict pattern in play, with the ongoing inter-ethnic conflict and the Tatmadaw engaging militarily with both the TNLA and two Shan armies, not to mention the creation of hardship for thousands of people caught up in the conflicts, the situation is really dire by any standard.
And the last thing we need is the horizontal racial conflict in Shan State. For now, the TNLA still has a chance to save the situation from escalating into an earnest racial conflict between the Shan and the Ta’ang, by just releasing Nang Mo Hom. And at the same time, the two Shan armies should refrain from direct military confrontation and opt for peaceful negotiation, if not for anything else, at least for the suffering people that they professed to be fighting for.