Some 300 local villagers displaced by fighting between Burmese government forces and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) began returning to their homes in Hsipaw Township on Monday.
Nang San San Aye, an MP in the Shan regional parliament, said the internally displaced persons, or IDPs, were being repatriated under arrangements made by the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and local civil society organisations (CSOs) following an easing of armed conflict in the Hsipaw area.
“The IDPs are being repatriated as calm gradually returns to the area,” she told DVB on Monday. “However it is very late for local farmers to plant their monsoon-season crops.
“They have been longing to go home, but could not due to the hostilities between the Tatmadaw [Burmese army] and the SSA-North,” the Shan nationalist MP continued. “But now it’s been a while since the Shan troops withdrew. Only one group, the Tatmadaw, remains active in the area, so it is far less likely that we will see further clashes. That’s why we decided that this was a good time for repatriation.”
She said the SNLD and local CSOs are providing the returning villagers and farmers with transportation and relief assistance, including vital household items such as cooking utensils and blankets.
“We are providing each family with cooking utensils and blankets, as well as 18,000 kyat [US$15] for each individual,” she said. “We would like to urge other organisations to help in the rehabilitation efforts for these people.”
She said around 100 IDPs were sent back to their villages on Monday, and more will follow later in the week.
However, she said, the villagers’ safety could not be guaranteed in terms of landmines and other hazards.
“As for landmines, although we don’t know for sure, we assume the [warring factions] did not plant landmines around the villages,” she said. “Nonetheless, we have warned them not to wander outside the perimeters of their villages or touch anything strange looking.”
Residents from the Hsipaw villages of Naton and Teinhai fled their homes on 19 May when fighting broke out nearby between the Burmese army and SSA-North forces, with the former reportedly employing aircraft strikes against the rebel units.
The main town of Hsipaw, or Thibaw, lies approximately 200 km northeast of Mandalay. It is a verdant area, lush with tea plantations. Many visitors, both domestic and international, travel by train to the town every year to experience the famous British colonial railroad across the Gokteik Gorge, often referred to as one of the world’s great railway journeys.