Thousands Trapped as Northern Shan State Fighting Intensifies

Monday, August 19, 2019

Locals say that some 1,600 people have fled their homes in northern Shan State’s Lashio, Hsenwi and Kutkai townships in recent days, with thousands more trapped as clashes escalate between the Burma Army and the Northern Alliance of ethnic armed groups.

Maj Mai Aik Kyaw, who is in charge of the information department for the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) confirmed on Sunday that fighting is intensifying between the Tatmadaw and three members of the Northern Alliance: the TNLA, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA).

After describing three rounds of clashes in Kutkai, Maj Mai Aik Kyaw said two military combat helicopters attacked the TNLA in the afternoon near the villages of Nam Kut and Loi Sam Sip.

According to locals, ethnic armed organizations and the military have blocked five roads due to fighting: the road connecting Lashio and Kutkai, Lashio and Hsenwi, Hsenwi and Kunlong, Hsenwi and Kutkai, and Kutkai and Muse.

“The Burma Army said that they blocked the roads because they have launched clearance operations on the ground. At the same time ethnic armed organizations said that they blocked the roads because of security and military affairs,” a Kutkai local told NMG.

Mai Mai, another local who lives in Kutkai, confirmed earlier reports of morning attacks from the air by the Burma Army.

“They launched airstrikes twice near Nam Kut and Loi Sam Sip. Villagers in Ner Tee are really afraid,” Mai Mai said, referring to another neighboring community. “At the moment, no donors will come to provide assistance. Roads are blocked. We have to share our food.”

Mai Mai said that displaced Kachin civilians have gone to stay with relatives, while Ta’ang people are among the 400 people who have gone to stay in monasteries. Some 300 people have sought refuge in a boarding school run by the Roman Catholic church in Nam Salap in Hsenwi Township by escaping through the mountains.

A major concern is those in danger but unable to escape.

“Local people are trapped between Lashio and Hsenwi—Mang Pieng, some small Kachin and Ta’ang villages between Hsenwi and Kutkai are trapped. The villages of Nam Kut, Nawng Swe, Faluam and others along the Muse road are trapped, too,” Mai Mai said.

The AA, MNDAA, and TNLA have asked that travelers, locals and rescue volunteers be careful traveling along the Mandalay-Muse national highway.

The fighting in Kutkai follows a five-point coordinated attack on August 15 by the members of the Northern Alliance on the Defense Services Technological Academy in Pyin Oo Lwin, and police and army outposts and tollgates in northern Shan State. The attacks were launched as a counter offensive to Tatmadaw offensives against the ethnic armed groups, in violation of its own unilateral ceasefire.