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The Burmese military on Saturday urged civilians displaced by war in southern Shan State to return home.
Over 1,000 people remain in a displacement camp near the town of Mongshu, where fighting between the Burmese army and rebel group the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) has flared intermittently since October.
The Burmese government says that fighting is now over, and that those taking shelter at the Hai Par Shaung displacement camp should return to their homes. Burmese army Brig-Gen. Win Min Tun, who is the chief of the Eastern Central Regional Military Command that oversees military operations in the area, was at the camp on 2 January. A member of the camp’s organisational committee, Sai Ni Hlaing, confirmed the visit.
“The Regional military commander came to donate food rations and he told us to return home, pledging to supply us with rice when we go back. Some displaced villagers told him that their homes had been destroyed by artillery shelling, he promised that they would be repaired,” Sai Ni Hlaing said.
However, residents in the camp said they are still afraid to go home.
Nan Hlaing, who was forced to flee his home in the town of Nampahmong said: “We are not on the side of the government soldiers or the rebels. Both sides are welcome in our village. What we are afraid of is the bullets that come out of their gun barrels. Stray bullets land in our village whenever they go to fight and we are afraid they might hit our children.
“We left behind our shop in the village when we fled to here and recently went back to check on it. The shop had been looted clean and there were empty noodle packets scattered in the streets.”
The SSA-N told DVB that the armed group had provided their enemy commander’s convoy with an escort through the fraught area of Shan State for Brig-Gen. Win Min Tun’s visit to the Hai Par Shaung camp.
“It is part of the agreement that we have made with the [Burmese Government’s] Union Peace-making Work Committee in Rangoon to cooperate with the government military to rehabilitate the IDPs and assist them to return home. The regional military commander used a diplomatic approach and notified us about his visit to the camp so we provided escort to his convoy to avoid unnecessary fighting along the way.”
Talks between the government and the Shan rebels have resulted in an agreement to withdraw troops that had previously faced off along the Mongnawng-Monghsu highway road. The SSA-S said the group had so far withdrawn about two-thirds of its troops from the area and will continue to withdraw the rest if the government forces do the same.
Over 10,000 villagers in Monghsu, Mongnwang and Kehsi Mansam townships were forced to flee their homes in October and November amid fighting between government and SSA-N forces.
As of 5 January, there are some 800 people remaining in Wanwa displacement camps, more than 1,000 in Hai Par Shaung and 400 in Monghsu.
The SSA-N was one of seven ethnic armed groups that spurned an invitation to sign onto a pre-drafted Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. The deal was ratified by an act of parliament last month.