Seven Vehicles Destroyed by Fire on Kutkai-Muse Highway

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Seven vehicles, including a bus and four large transport trucks, were destroyed by fire on the Kutkai-Muse national highway in northern Shan State Tuesday evening as a result of clashes between the Burma Army and an alliance of three ethnic armed groups.

According to a relief worker, the incident occurred around 6pm on Tuesday. None of the drivers or passengers appears to have been injured.

“It happened around 6pm yesterday [September 3]. We took the drivers and passengers to Kutkai town around 6am today. I saw seven burnt-out vehicles on the road, including one express bus, four big trucks, an AD van, and a small truck,” Ko Myo, who works with Volunteers Without Borders (Hsipaw), told NMG.

The three members of the Northern Alliance Brotherhood—the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—all rejected claims that they were responsible for the incident.

“Our forces didn’t set those vehicles on fire. They were burning on the road at around 8pm. At that time, our forces were crossing the road near Nam Kut when the Burma Army shot at us. Then we exchanged gunfire. Both sides used heavy weapons. I don’t know which side hit the cars,” Maj. Mai Aik Kyaw, who is in charge of the TNLA’s information department, told NMG.

“Only two vehicles were burning when our forces were there. But I don’t know how many were burned later. I don’t have the exact details,” he added.

However, those who were there offered a different account of how the vehicles met their end, according to people who spoke to them.

“The drivers and passengers told us the vehicles were lined up in a row on the Kutkai-Muse highway between Nam Kut and Nawng Swe. Then the ethnic armed forces set them on fire on the road,” Mine Mai, the spokesperson for the Humanitarian Strategic Team—Northern Shan State (HST-NSS), told NMG.

“They also said they heard the sound of guns shooting from somewhere a little bit far off,” she added.

The highway is still in use, but local people said that anyone who wants to travel in northern Shan State should carefully observe the situation on the ground before coming to the area.

“The army said it has been carrying out a regional clearance operation to secure the area. But cars were burned on the national highway, so there really is no security. As a local person, I want to say that people should not travel in this area. If you don’t have an urgent need to come here, stay away, because you could get trapped,” said Mine Mai.

Other locals have said that the ethnic armed groups have shot at the tires of cars that didn’t stop when ordered to do so. NMG asked the TNLA spokesperson for his comments on this, but he replied that he didn’t know all the details about the situation on the highway.