Residents of northern Shan State were shocked after Tatmadaw soldiers from Karen State turned up unexpectedly and began questioning them about population, property and how many vehicles each community owns.
The Burma Army soldiers began probing villages, located in Tang Yang Township, in early August. Fearing the presence of out-of-state Burma Army soldiers in Shan State would lead to conflict with ethnic armed organizations based in the area, villagers from Seng Hkawng, Nawng Lon, Ner Hel and Ner San fled to Mong Kao and Tang Yang towns.
Many wonder what the troops from LID-22, from Hpa-an, the capital of Karen State, and MOC-12 from Kawkareik, also located in Karen State, are doing so far from their native bases. They worry the Burma Army is planning an offensive in the area to disrupt polling during the 2020 general election.
Sai Aik Ti, from Tang Yang town, told SHAN that the Tatmadaw might be sending the troops to intimidate voters from casting ballots for an ethnic party. Moreover, since soldiers can cast advance votes wherever they’re stationed, it’s possible they’re being sent to weaken the ethnic vote in Shan State.
In Loisay village-tract, Burma Army soldiers informed the election commission for Tang Yang Township of their intentions to vote at the local polling stations.
Sai Kham Myat, a parliamentarian for the township, said while they can cast advance ballots where ever they are stationed it’s not the job of the soldier to collect household data, suggesting there may be a political motivation for their appearance in Shan State.
“We’re just praying that there aren’t any clashes,” a youth from the village of Loisay told SHAN on condition of anonymity. The youth explained that Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) troops are based outside the village.
Sai Lek, the general secretary for Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, is concerned that Tatmadaw soldiers, who have registered to vote in Tang Yang and Namtu townships, are also registered at their home bases. “I think the respective election commission needs to investigate to ensure the election will be credible.”
SSPP/SSA spokesperson Maj Sai Than Aung, told SHAN he finds the presence of out-of-state Burma soldiers in his area disconcerting. “Our troops are deployed in the Per San and Loisay area. I don’t know why Burma’s army columns are coming into our territories. Burma Army columns LID-22 and MOC-12 are from Karen state, so it’s a bit odd.”
Both the SSPP/SSA and the Restoration Council of Shan State /Shan State Army (RCSS) reported that Tatmadaw sent reinforcements to their areas in northern and southern Shan State.
Since the third week of August, Tatmadaw soldiers have set up numerous roadblocks and are stopping everyone for questioning between Mong Nawng, Mong Hsu, Kehsi, Mongreh, Wan Hai, and Mongreh townships. A Kehsi resident said anyone who can’t answer or “shows fear in their face” must exit their vehicle or motorbike for further interrogation.
Between 2010 and 2016, the Burma Army attacked SSPP/SSA in Tang Yang, Mong Hsu, Mongreh and Kehsi townships, causing the displacement of nearly a quarter of a million civilians. Fighting canceled polling in these areas during the 2015 election.