Twenty-six ethnic Shan villagers who had been abducted by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin state’s Mansi township were released by the rebel group on Tuesday, according to a Burmese government source.
Bhamo district administrator Tayzar Aung told DVB on Thursday that 26 of 51 Taileng (Red Shan) ethnic villagers forcibly abducted in a recruitment drive by the KIA were released on Tuesday afternoon.
“Previously, we heard the villagers were recruited by the KIA [as soldiers] but the group that was released on Tuesday told us they were kept in a lodge and had not been given military training,” said the district administrator, adding that the release may be the result of a meeting on Monday between the KIA and a delegation headed by the Kachin Peace Creation group, which has also been involved in mediating peace talks between the KIA and the government.
The 26 released on Tuesday are residents of Mansi town and nearby Theinpin, Hanhtet and Manwein villages – 22 of them being Red Shan and four Kachins – mostly middle-aged men, but also including a few women, said Tayzar Aung.
The Shan Ethnic Affairs Organisation (SEAO) said it had only identified 21 villagers released, two of whom were children.
The KIA has been under fire by Shan ethnic organisations in the northernmost Burma state who accuse the rebel army of forced recruitment and extorting Shan villagers.
Bhamo district administrator Tayzar Aung said the KIA’s policy of forced recruitment was making the local population feel unsafe.
“In the past, the KIA has recruited new members on regular basis – demanding two recruits per village. They should halt this practise now that negotiations with the government are in place,” he said.
The KIA was unavailable for the comment. The group’s liaison officer Lt-Col. Naw Bo previously told DVB it was not their policy to forcibly recruit villagers.