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Soldiers from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) stand accused of abducting a man in the Hsenwi Township village of Kham Tain on Wednesday evening, releasing him only after a local abbot paid more than 2 million kyats (US$1,460) to the ethnic armed group.
“Villagers said Palaung [TNLA] soldiers fired shots into the air before entering the village. Then, they abducted someone named Ko Thiha. Ko Thiha is not originally from this area. He is a Burman who hails from the plains areas but he has lived in this village for a long time,” said Nang Khin Htar Yi, a Shan Nationalities League for Democracy MP representing Hsenwi Township in the Shan State legislature.
“They seized a walkie-talkie and handcuffs from Ko Thiha,” the lawmaker added. “Actually, an abbot of the village gave the walkie-talkie to Ko Thiha to use during a cremation ceremony for a monk, but he hadn’t given it back to the abbot yet. He had handcuffs because he sometimes helped the village authorities arrest criminals such as thieves and drug users. The soldiers saw those things and assumed he was a spy.”
Ko Thiha, who said he was also a member of a volunteer village fire brigade, told DVB that he was released from TNLA custody only after 2.5 million kyats was given to the soldiers. He claimed to have been shot at and beaten by TNLA soldiers before being abducted.
“They punched me. They kicked me. They handcuffed me and fired a shot at me but I dodged the bullet. They attempted to shoot me again. They beat me and asked, ‘Are you from Military Intelligence, the army or RCSS?’” he said in reference to the Restoration Council of Shan State, another ethnic armed group. “When I replied that I am just a civilian, they beat me up again. They abducted me and told my wife to give them 3 million kyats to get me back.”
He continued, “They threatened that if they did not receive the money by 4:30pm, they would kill me. We do not have that amount of money. My wife went around the village to borrow money from other villagers but did not succeed. The abbot at the monastery felt pity on us and decided to lend 2.5 million that he had collected to build a monastery building. My wife gave the money to them and I was released.”
This account was disputed by a TNLA information officer, however, who denied that troops belonging to the group were active in the area.
“The TNLA does not have any kind of operations in the Hsenwi area,” said Mai Aik Kyaw, the spokesperson.
“We asked our comrades. Regiments 5 and 6 of the TNLA are close to the area. When we saw the news on Facebook and asked our comrades there, we were informed that there is no such operations by us in the area. I do not know which group has done the act. None of our comrades was there so we do not have anyone to ask about that,” Mai Aik Kyaw told DVB.
In a statement, the TNLA did say that elsewhere in Shan State on Wednesday evening, its troops engaged in hostilities with the Burma Army.
“The TNLA had clashes with the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] in Manton [Township] around 7pm on 19 July and shellings damaged houses and livestock in Naw Khuu village. The villagers fled to tea plantation farms for temporary refuge,” the statement read.
Manton lies immediately west of Hsenwi and the two townships share a border.
Speaking of the alleged altercation in the latter, the local MP Nang Khin Htar Yi said some there had fled to Hsenwi town.
“When the villagers heard the shots, many of them fled their villages in fear. The villagers mostly are from Kham Tain village and some are from other villages in the same village-tract. … Their villages are just two or three miles away from Hsenwi [town] so they walked to the town. Some fled while they were farming. Their feet were covered in mud.”
“The villagers who fled their homes were provided accommodation in the monasteries in the Hsenwi town centre. One-hundred of them are staying in Kyaung Sine Monastery, 27 in Kyaung Kan Monastery and 22 in Kaung Muu Htat Monastery,” he added.
“I am helping them with accommodation arrangements. I have reported the incident to the relevant state government bodies, the Lashio district administrator’s office and Hsenwi administrator’s office. Social services organisations have also provided blankets and food” to the displaced civilians, Nang Khin Htar Yi said.