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The Burmese army shelled 11 villages in northern Shan State, in a 1 and 2 March attack, before torturing locals for information regarding the movements of the Shan State Army- North (SSA-N), the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) has alleged.
More than 2,000 people from 11 villages south of Hsipaw, a town situated some 70km southwest of state capital Lashio, are reported to have fled their homes as the violence ensued.
One thousand Burmese troops moved into an area south of Hsipaw on 26 February, setting up camp in Si Ku and Pang Tee village tracts and the surrounding forest, the report said.
Burmese troops immediately seized livestock and food supplies, SHRF claimed, adding that in one case soldiers killed expropriated animals in front of their owners. Locals were coopted as guides and interrogated as to rebel positions, the Shan NGO said.
Then on 1 March, government troops began an assault on the 11 villages of Si Ky and Pang Tee village tracts, firing mortars and machine guns into homes without warning.
“There were no Shan troops in the village, and there was no return of gunfire,” the SHRF report reads.
“The Burmese troops kept firing until 2 March. A villager from Wan Si Ku heard one of the Burmese soldiers in the village speaking by walkie-talkie on 2 March to troops firing outside the village, saying, ‘That’s good! Keep firing!’”
On the first day of the assault, Sai Moo, a Shan villager in his 30s, was arrested on suspicion of SSA-N involvement. Sai Moo, according to SHRF, was “interrogated and beaten so badly that many of his teeth were knocked out. He was then placed in a basket overnight, and wood placed on top of the basket. The next day he was taken away by the soldiers and handed over to police in Nawng Khio. He remains in custody.”
Women were interrogated at gunpoint as villagers desperately tried to blanket unexploded mortar shells with dirt and rubber tires. Live shells remain scattered through houses, schools and monasteries pockmarked by bullets and damaged by explosions, SHRF said.
The Burmese troops from Battalion 520, based in Hsipaw, Battalion 77 from Bago Division, and Battalion 115 from Nawng Khio then reportedly used the abandoned village tract as a springboard for an attack on an SSA-N camp three hours to the north, which they subsequently razed to the ground.
That objective accomplished, three days after the initial assault, the Burmese army withdrew from the villages, the report concluded, adding that residents have now returned to their homes, having previously sought temporary refuge in neighbouring villages.
As such violence continues in Shan State, contention between the SSA-N and the Shan State Army South (SSA-S) continues to mar the nationwide peace process. Ltd Gen Yawd Serk, leader of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) — which incorporates the SSA-S as their armed wing — maintains that negotiations must be held between an alliance of states and the government, as opposed to an alliance of ethnic organisations.
That attitude represents a refusal to acknowledge the political presence of the SSA-N in National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) negotiations with the government. The SSA-N exists solely as an armed force, unsubstantiated by a political body.
RCSS’s Lt-Gen Yawd Serk told the Shan Herald on Monday that the RCSS would begin to engage in the peace process once the ceasefire is signed and political dialogue is then engaged.
Observers have questioned whether the RCSS sees the political dialogue stage as an opportunity to engage as the sole representatives of a unified Shan State, once their northern rivals have been sidelined by ceasefire disarmament.
“The first step is unity among Shans, the second step with non-Shan groups in Shan State, and the third step with other states.” Yawd Serk told the Shan Herald.