Civilians say rival Shan ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) are exploiting them during their conflict over land in northern Shan State by forcing them to work without compensation.
“The two Shan armies are the same. They use our boats and motorbikes, but they don’t pay anything for fuel. We do not receive any money for helping them,” a man living near the Myitnge River in Hsipaw Township told SHAN, wishing to remain anonymous. After the coup and during the pandemic, everything is expensive, he said, and they cannot afford to work for free or use their own fuel to shuttle around the EAOs.
The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) have made at least five villages do forced labour, local sources told SHAN. No one wanted to publish their names for fear of reprisals.
“They have never paid any wages to the villagers. We have to give them rice, cooking oil, salt and sometimes even money. We are already suffering a lot. Everyone knows how expensive fuel is right now,” said a 30-year-old woman.
According to another woman, SSPP soldiers stole things from a house in Tar Lon village in Ner Mahkaw village tract on 8 October. ”I heard that the house owner was a former RCSS soldier, but I do not know any more details,” she said, explaining that the SSPP probably feared he would betray their location to the enemy. She could not say how much was stolen from the house, which remained intact after the soldiers robbed it.
Since SSPP arrived in Tar Lon, a villager told SHAN it was difficult to get to work. ”They have confiscated all our boats that we need to get to our farm. During the rainy season, it is really inconvenient to travel by land,” he said.
A youth appealed to the leaders of the Shan EAOs to think of the hardships of the people during this time. “The Shan army leaders should pay wages to the local people and monitor what their soldiers are doing to them in the remote areas,” he said.
”The armed forces must protect the people” not oppress them, a representative from Tai Students’ Union told SHAN.
RCSS spokesperson Col Sai Kham San refused to acknowledge there’s a problem. ”I do not know anything about it, so I can not comment on it.”
SSPP spokespersons Col Sai Hsu and Col Sai Phone Han could not be reached despite multiple attempts by SHAN.
“The villagers do not have weapons. They are afraid of the armed forces and of telling the truth,” about what’s happening to them, an anonymous source said.