The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) has denied recent allegations of extrajudicial killing and mass abduction of local villagers in northern Shan State’s Kyaukme district.
The ethnic armed group was accused this week by local residents in the village-tract of Mongtat, in Kyaukme’s Namtu Township, of shooting a man dead and abducting more than 90 people from a village-tract monastery amid hostilities with the Burmese Army and a rival armed group, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S).
But Mong Aik Kyaw, the TNLA’s spokesperson, dismissed the allegations of mass abduction and claimed the group was only summoning the villagers for a discussion when it rounded them up at the Mongtat village monastery on Sunday.
“We did not arrest them — our commanders on the ground summon local villagers in their respective areas of operation for discussions from time to time, to educate them about drugs and such, and there has been a misunderstanding among the public,” said Mong Aik Kyaw.
“This is our troops on the ground acting at their own discretion. It is rare for the TNLA’s upper command to instruct these procedures.”
A statement released by the TNLA on Tuesday said troops from its 1st Brigade on 12 March “invited” over 90 residents from the Mongtat village-tract to their command base to discuss stability in the area, security and the livelihoods of the local people. The statement said the TNLA brigade also offered to assist the locals in tackling hardships they have had to face due to a recent SSA-S incursion in the area. The group claimed the villagers were escorted back to their homes the following day.
A local elder from a village within the Mongtat village-tract said the TNLA released 37 of 39 men abducted from his village but two still remained in the group’s custody, still being held on allegations that they were supporters of the SSA-S and its political wing, the Restoration Council of Shan State.
“I don’t know about residents in other villages but they took 39 men from our village and only 37 have been returned so far. They were let go by the group in the afternoon on [Monday] and had to walk back all the way to the village,” he said.
“They had to spend a night at the TNLA camp before being released and claimed they were not provided proper beds or a place to sleep. There are two villagers who still remain in their custody and I can vouch that they are just ordinary villagers, both over 50 years of age. Their names are Lon Sai Nwan and Lon Aik Gyi.”
One of the villagers released on Monday said that while detained, he saw another man from the village of Mongmaw who had been held by the TNLA for more than a week. He said that man was detained since 6 March and appeared to have been badly beaten. According to the freed villager, the man earlier detained was brought out before the new detainees and ordered to point out RCSS supporters among them, with those identified by him as RCSS supporters yet to be released.
Another freed villager said he saw another Mongmaw resident, an elderly man named Lon Mauk Hseng, being beating repeatedly with a bag over his head.
The TNLA has denied any wrongdoing in Kyaukme.