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State officials and political parties in northern Shan state are trying to convince residents to return to their villages after thousands of locals fled from their homes after fighting erupted between the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and the military earlier this month.
Last week, approximately 2,000 locals from 19 villages fled as hundreds of Burmese soldiers launched an assault on a SSA-S position near the Sino-Burmese border. Many of the villagers reportedly crossed the border into China.
The attack follows an assault on another SSA-S base on 5 May in northern Shan state when the outpost was razed by the military.
Shan Nationalities Democratic Party’s Sai Kyaw Ohn said local authorities had taken field trips to the area and were attempting to convince the villagers from Namhkam and Tanyang townships to return home after they fled to escape violence.
The MP said that officials were also compiling a list of property that was damaged during the fighting between the SSA-S and the Tatmadaw earlier in the month.
“[Officials] are telling villagers not to be afraid to return home and that they are compiling a list of destroyed to property to provide them with compensation and they will also provide food and medical assistance,” said Sai Kyaw Ohn.
While about 40 people have reportedly returned home in Namhkam’s Nawngmata and Nawnghkam villages, residents remain wary of the government soldiers stationed near their villages.
According to a report in the Shan Herald Agency for News published on Tuesday, SSA-S representatives have asked Chinese officials to provide refugees with temporary shelter after the villagers fled across the border.
As officials attempt to rebuild trust with locals in the restive area, the government accused the rebel group in the state press of shooting civilians at an oil and gas block earlier in the week.
In a brief published in Wednesday’s English edition of The New Light of Myanmar, the government mouthpiece blamed Shan rebels for orchestrating an assault at an oil and gas block in Naungmata Village in Nankham Township that left two dead and three injured, including two police officers.
The victims were identified as U Min Din, 38, and U Sai Zar Aung, 32.
“The assailants are from RCSS/SSA,” stated the report.
The SSA-S dismissed the report as “groundless” and said officials were undermining the group’s fragile ceasefire with Naypyidaw.
“The government, while looking to bring about eternal peace, should not use its state-run media to discredit ethnic armed groups like this as it may lead to further difficulties with building mutual-trust,” said SSA-S spokesperson Sai Hseng Murng.
“The attack [in Namhkam] has no connection with us whatsoever.”
The accusations come as relations between the ceasefire group and government have dramatically declined in recent weeks as ongoing fighting continues to erupt between rebel forces and the military.
The SSA-S says it’s in the process of reaching out to the government’s chief peace negotiator Aung Min but has yet to hear of any developments.
“We have sent two officials – Colonel Sai La and Lieutenant-colonel Sai Ngan – to meet with [minister] Aung Min at the Peace Centre [in Rangoon],” said Sai Hseng Murng. “For now, I don’t know whether the meeting has actually happened yet or not. They left for [Rangoon] a couple of days ago.”
While the government has signed an official ceasefire with the SSA-S, the agreement has failed to reign in the Tatmadaw and stop the military from attacking groups who have inked similar deals in the restive state.