The driver of a truck that was among seven vehicles that had been set on fire on the Kutkai-Muse national highway in northern Shan State on Tuesday said he believed that troops from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) were responsible for the incident.
“Rebels began to stop 12-wheel trucks near Shu Khin Tha yesterday [September 3]. They pointed their guns at us and ordered us to line up our vehicles. They tried to use them to block the highway. They took our phones and wallets before they set our vehicles on fire,” truck driver Ko Thura Aung told SHAN.
According to Ko Thura Aung, the soldiers who stopped them were wearing TNLA military uniforms and spoke in Palaung, the Ta’ang language. They told all drivers and passengers to go wait in the nearby village of Nam Kut.
“They were speaking in Palaung, so I think it was the Palaung [Ta’ang] army. They ordered all drivers to sit on the ground. Then they brought us to Nam Kut before they set our cars on fire,” he said.
Seven vehicles were destroyed in the incident, including passenger vehicles and four transport trucks carrying apples, clothes, and construction materials.
According to Ko Thura Aung, he could smell petrol when he and the other drivers returned to try to save vehicles that hadn’t been too badly damaged.
“We were not present when they set our cars on fire. We noticed the smell of petrol. I think they tried to destroy our vehicles by setting them on fire with petrol,” he told SHAN.
“They ordered us to give them all our mobile phones. They threatened to kill us if they found mobile phones in our hands,” he added.
The incident occurred around 6pm on Tuesday. The following morning, a team of volunteers from Kutkai went to Nam Kut to pick up the stranded drivers and passengers.
“Nobody was hurt. We picked up about 20 people and brought them back to Kutkai. They have lost all their money and their mobile phones,” Ko Myo, who works for Volunteers Without Borders (Hsipaw), told SHAN.
Maj. Mai Aik Kyaw, who is in charge of the TNLA’s information department, denied that the group was responsible for the destruction of the vehicles.
“Our forces clashed with the Burma Army near Nam Kut. Both sides used heavy weapons. I don’t know which side hit the cars,” he said, adding that clashes are likely to intensify if the Burma Army continues its offensive operations in the area.
Ko Thura Aung said that he had heard warnings about using national highways, but added that there were no viable alternative routes that he could use.
“We observed the ground situation before we went. I heard that we could cross the Nam Khai Bridge near Namphetka. That’s why we drove on this road,” he said.
Local people said that an unknown armed group fired shots at Lashio police station-2 around 8:30pm on Tuesday.
At least 10 vehicles, including private cars and transport trucks, have been destroyed by fire in Kutkai Township in recent days.