Factory explosion in Namhkam fuels suspicions

An explosion at a cigarette factory in Namhkam township, northern Shan State, on Wednesday afternoon has left several people hospitalised. No casualties have been reported.

The factory is owned by pro-government militia leader Kyaw Myint, fuelling suspicions that the explosion was an attack by an opposing rebel army.

Sai Hseng Wan, the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party chairman in Namhkam, said police are still trying to establish the number of people injured while authorities have pledged to provide security after dark in the hope of preventing further incidents.

“The local police superintendent said people were injured in the incident and are being treated at the hospital, but I don’t know how many,” said Sai Hseng Wan.

“The local authorities have taken responsibility for providing security in the town during the evenings.”

Factory owner Kyaw Myint is leader of the Panhsay People’s Militia Force (PPMF). In 2009, the PPMG was subsumed by the Border Guard Force (BGF), a standing army made of pro-government ethnic fighters under the command of the Burmese military.

Kyaw Myint is also an elected USDP member of the Shan State government.

While Namhkam police have not yet identified those responsible for the attack, there is a history of tension between the PPMF and armed rebel groups including the Ta-ang (Palaung) National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Shan State Army North (SSA-N).

The TNLA have previously alleged that the PPMF are responsible for “extensive drug trafficking”, and has accused them of disrupting TNLA drug eradication projects.

The TNLA claims to have killed ten and wounded over twenty Burmese and PPMF troops during clashes in opium fields on 11 September 2013. The group also claims that the TNLA launched two deadly assaults against the Burmese army on 23 April in nearby Sakhanthit and Kyusai villages.

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Wednesday’s attack follows more than a week of fighting between government forces and rebels in Kachin and northern Shan states that caused thousands to flee their homes, many to Namhkam.

The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of armed ethnic organisations, on Thursday condemned the Burmese government’s “positioning and deployment of an overwhelming force with the aim of encircling and annihilating the KIA, TNLA and SSA-N.”

The coalition warned that recent hostilities seriously undermine any trust reached during the nation’s protracted peace negotiations.

The Burmese government has yet to comment on the incident.

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