Since the beginning of September, human rights activists in Burma’s northern Shan State have observed an increase of Tatmadaw troops. Military columns have been seen moving through Lashio, Kutkai, Muse, Namkham and Mangton townships.
As the country experiences its worst outbreak since the pandemic started, just before polling for the 2020 general election starts, some activists say it’s disconcerting that the Burma Army is sending soldiers to areas in northern Shan State where ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) are based. Electoral candidates have to contend with the virus and the real possibility of armed conflicts during campaigning.
Sai Wan Leng Kham, a parliamentarian for Shan Nationalities League for Democracy contesting Lashio Township for a second time, bumped into a Tatmadaw military column while campaigning. “We didn’t have a problem. The military column was traveling in the area when we were talking to people.”
But villagers are afraid fighting will start.
Political parties want all the armed groups to stay put during the campaign period to avoid unnecessary hostilities from happening. “We don’t want any clashes to start,” Sai Wan Leng Kham told SHAN. “Both the Burma Army and ethnic armed organizations need to avoid confrontations. And the Burma Army needs to stop all its military operations.”
Aung Min, chair of the Ta’ang National Party (TNP) for Lashio Township, said the campaign hasn’t even started because of the threat of fighting. “The Burma Army and EAOs are deployed very close to each other, so clashes can start anytime. And that worries us.”
TNP candidates won’t do any outreach in Mon Yaw.
Maj Tar Aik Kyaw, spokesperson for Ta’ang National Liberation Army, confirmed there were many Tatmadaw troops deployed in September. With the increase of Burma Army soldiers, “sometimes we can’t avoid conflicts,” he said.
A villager told SHAN that during the previous elections the Tatmadaw sent troops to northern Shan State. “Fighting usually happens in our area when the election comes and we want it to stop. We don’t want military columns patrolling our area during the pre-election period. If there are soldiers, people will be too afraid to vote.”