“Due to the news that Pa-O National Organization (PNO) is enlisting young people, I have fled to Taunggyi city. None of my friends are staying at the village now,” the 22 years old Pa-O young man narrated his current situation to SHAN.
The military-backed Pa-O National Organization (PNO), also known as the Pa-O militia group is aggressively recruiting young Pa-O and Shan from the Pa-O Self Administrative Region, Taunggyi District.
Those young people who are living in the PNO controlled areas are fleeing to the city of Taunggyi, and some are migrating to Thailand.
PNO controlled areas are Hsi Hseng township, Panglaung township, and Ho Pone township, Southern Shan State.
During the General Than Shwe administration, the military favored 2008 constitution was drafted and approved, and self-administrative zones were granted to some ethnic regions.
In Shan State, five ethnicities were granted self-administrative authority – they are Palaung, Wa, Kokang, Pa-O, and Danu self-administrative zones respectively.
Starting from 25 May 2022, after the announcement that PNO will be enlisting new members from its self-administrative zone, there has been advocacy activities that both men and women aged between 18 to 50 years old must serve in the armed group in order to strengthen the security activities.
Moreover, the Shan ethnic living in the PNO controlled areas must provide 2 kilos of rice and 30,000 Kyat per household.
Due to the Recruitment, Young People Flee to Thailand
Because of the PNO’s new member recruitment, the civilians are running away from their home, and most of them are illegally entering into Thailand.
According to the residents in PNO controlled zones, the forced enlisting from the areas are affecting the farmers who are relying on agriculture.
“The young residents are afraid to become a soldier of the Pa-O militia group, and most of them are migrating into Thailand – over hundreds of them are going there. The planting season of paddy is done, but I am afraid that we will not have enough young labor to harvest the crop,” Sai Hla, who is a Hsi Hseng resident, told SHAN.
In 2019, farmers were severely affected by the consequences of Covid-19, and now the additional political instability is making their lives even harder.
“Now all young people are running away to Thailand, and I am worried that we will not have enough young labor to harvest our crop. Last year, even though we had young people, no one dared to go to the farm because of the fear of infecting Covid-19,” Sai Hla opened up about his farming experience.
Currently, only the elders and children are left in the village, and it will be very difficult to work on the farms.
“Very few people who are capable of working in the farms now. Due to the forced enlistment, many of my friends from the village are moving to Thailand. Only the elders are staying behind,” a 20 years old man who fled to Thailand told SHAN.
PNO instructed to send the list of the new recruits from its controlled areas by 16 June 2022 latest.
“I have a young son, so I have to worry about him. It is a waste of time and money for me now. I have sent my son to a safe place already. But I do not know what they would say about that,” a 50 years old Ho Pone resident, Nang Moe, told SHAN.
New Recruits for Security Reason
Since the PNO new recruits will be used to tighten the security in the areas and to back-up the military junta, the locals said that armed conflict could occur with the military resistance armed group, People Defense Force (PDF).
“A local militia group was established in the Pa-O self-administrative zone – it is controlled by the military junta. They are afraid that the PDF forces will intervene in the area. Clashes may escalate in the future,” a ward administrator told SHAN anonymously due to his security concerns.
A young Pa-O anonymously expressed his opinion regarding the new recruits enlisted by the Pa-O militia group that it is not the right thing to back-up the military junta.
“If the new enlists will be used for the sake of military junta, I do not think that this is the right thing to do. What they (PNO) are doing is indicating that they are supporting and defending the military junta,” a Pa-O youth told SHAN.
The young man also added that using the regional security as an excuse to support the military junta would only lead to the conflict between the ethnicities living in the areas.
“Even though they (PNO) may claim this activity is for tightening the regional security, if their main objective is to support the military coup, if it is to divide the unity of the ethnicities, and if it is killing innocent people, in my view, I think we cannot accept such claim and activity,” the above Pa-O youth added.
According to the announcement on 22 May 2022 released by a battalion No. 1008 under NUG’s ministry of defense, if the PNO will continue supporting and collaborating with the military junta, armed conflict is not avoidable.
The NUG’s battalion No.1008 is established with many ethnicities such as Shan, Inn Thar, Pa-O, and Kayan, and the group will fight PNO if it continues collaborating with the military junta.
“If we provide men and money to PNO, it is the same as supporting our enemy. If we do not, we are living in the PNO controlled areas, and we are afraid that they will come and do something to us. Meanwhile, if we support PNO, we have to be afraid of the PDF forces,” Nang Moe explained the situation they are in.
She added that those who are living in the PNO controlled areas are in a very difficult situation – if they provide things to PNO, they will have to worry about PDF, and vice versa.
“We civilians have to fear those who have weapons. Whatever we decide to do, we cannot avoid any of them – we still have to live in fear. It can never be peaceful,” Nang Moe disappointedly told SHAN and ended the conversation.