Scorched earth threat in Shan state

Burmese troops in southern Shan state are reportedly threatening to raze villages if fighting spreads, sparking concerns that an egregious tactic of the government’s controversial Four Cuts strategy is soon to rear its head.

Village chiefs from four villages – Mongnan, Mongkong, Naungswan and Wanpang – in Kehsi Mansan township were summoned by officials from the army’s Battalion 9 on 31 July and warned of the threat.

They were reportedly told to ensure that fighting between Burmese forces and the opposition Shan State Army (SSA) does not spread to Kehsi Mansan. Colonel Perng Fa, from the SSA’s political wing, the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), said that villagers not in a position to prevent fighting.

“The village headmen cannot do anything [to prevent fighting.] They wouldn’t know when fighting is to break out,” he said. “[The army] threatens the villagers like this so that the SSA will avoid fighting with them.”

He said that his group, which has a strong support base in southern Shan state, warns locals when fighting is likely.

Scorched earth tactics are a key part of the Four Cuts strategy, which looks to sever lines of support and communication for Burma’s various ethnic armed groups. In August 2009 the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) documented the destruction of 40 villages in southern Shan state in three weeks of heavy fighting. Burmese troops had accused the villagers of supporting the SSA.

A number of houses in Kehsi Mansan have already been razed, locals say. Fighting in the township on 25 July ended with artillery being fired into a village, followed by troops burning a house there.

Reports of forced recruitment of Shan locals have consistently surfaced since fighting intensified in March this year. A man in Kyaukme township told DVB that last week “soldiers arrived in a truck and started looking for young males to use as porters”.

Fighting across central and southern Shan state began in March following a refusal by the SSA’s northern faction to become a government-controlled Border Guard Force. Similar refusals by other ethnic armies have sparked heavy fighting in Karen and Kachin states.

Two Burmese troops were killed during a clash with the SSA between Nongpain and Sakhanthar villages on 2 August.

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