Thousands of people have once again fled their homes after fighting reignited between two armed groups in northern Shan State last week, prompting calls from locals and prominent politicians for a ceasefire.
Troops loyal to the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) began fighting with forces from the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) in Hohke village tract on September 14, with the former group at one point firing heavy artillery that destroyed two homes.
Both groups call their armed wings by the same name–the Shan State Army–but the SSPP appends the moniker with the word North while the RCSS’s fighters are known as the Shan State Army – South.
Over 3,000 people have fled their homes, are taking shelter in nearby communities and are in urgent need of aid, said a volunteer who is helping the displaced.
“Entire villages had to flee once the battles started,” he said. Fighting seemed likely to continue and the number of displaced people could therefore increase, he added.
Ten out of 17 villages in the Hohke tract, which is in Mong Kung Township, have seen some or all of their residents flee amid the fighting.
Many of those who fled were displaced from their homes in July when the two groups fought each other in the nearby Loi Hun hill range, close to the SSPP’s headquarters in Wanhai, Mong Hsu Township. During those clashes thousands of SSPP soldiers attacked RCSS units stationed in the hills.
Major Kham Hseng, a spokesperson of the RCSS, said that the current battles started when his group’s units in the Hohke village tract were attacked.
Fighting has also flared intermittently in the townships of Kesi (Kyethi), Mong Kung, Hsipaw and Kyaukme towns, he added.
Major Kham Hseng said his side has also been battling the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which has fought alongside the SSPP in northern Shan.
“We don’t want other people to think that two Shan organisations are fighting against each other. The TNLA is on their side as well,” he said. “[There is] an alliance between armed groups in the northern region as well. It is therefore quite worrying that their collective forces are going to attack us.”
Rumours have circulated that the powerful United Wa State Army has also been fighting alongside the SSPP in the Loi Hun hills, but Major Kham Hseng declined to comment on those reports.
Multiple calls from Myanmar Now seeking comment from SSPP officials went unanswered.
Both the SSPP and the RCSS oppose the coup, locals say, and are fighting for control of territory in the region. The two groups first began fighting when the RCSS’s troops entered territory in northern Shan in 2016.
Locals refer to the SSPP as the “green” army–a reference to the plain green uniforms of its fighters–while the RCSS is known as the “camo” army because its soldiers wear camouflage patterns.
On Sunday SSPP fighters fired mortar rounds after coming under attack by RCSS troops with light weaponry. The shells landed inside the Hokhe village tract, where RCSS troops were stationed, and hit two houses in Hokhe village.
“Because the RCSS was in the village and the green team was outside of the village, they thought they wouldn’t retaliate to the attacks,” the volunteer said. “But the greens started firing shells unexpectedly, which destroyed two houses. We lost count of the number of shells that were fired.”
Several displaced people, all Shan women, were injured during a car crash on Monday caused by poor road conditions in Pang Kay Tu village tract after fleeing Hokhe.
“Four of them had quite severe injuries so they were sent to Mong Kung hospital,” the They were then sent to Loilem hospital as their conditions worsened,” the volunteer said. One of the women sustained a severe head injury.
Calls for ceasefire
Politicians from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) have called on both groups to negotiate a ceasefire and criticised them for endangering locals even further while much of the country is united in fighting the junta.
“It’s very shameful that two Shan groups are fighting against each other amidst the deteriorating political situation,” said Sai Lone, a former lawmaker for the party elected in 2015. “All the people and the monks are begging for peace.”
Sai Leik, the party’s general secretary, said he has called repeatedly for negotiations but his efforts have been in vain.
“They should stop this internal fight among the two Shan groups before it’s too late, since the political situation is very complicated,” he told Myanmar Now.
He has been trying to contact each organisation to request a ceasefire directly, he said, adding that he was saddened to learn of the displaced people who were injured in the car crash.
“It breaks my heart to hear of such matters,” he said.