An armed militia in northeastern Burma’s Shan state forced more than 50 National League for Democracy (NLD) members at gunpoint to resign from the party on Sunday following a land dispute in the area.
Tin Maung Toe, chairperson of the NLD in Shan state’s Taunggyi district, said 57 party members in Lawksawk township’s Satthay village were threatened by militants and forced to resign.
According to Tin Maung Toe, the militia – formerly the PaO National Army (PNA) –was angry with the political party for working with local farmers to reclaim land that had been allegedly confiscated by the armed group.
“The [NLD members] in Satthay village have submitted their resignations – they were forced to do this by the militia’s commander himself,” said Tin Maung Toe, adding that the armed group had planned to push the party’s members in nearby villages to resign.
The show of force comes after villagers in Satthay and Mauksan tangled with the militia over land that locals claim was grabbed.
On 16 May, the NLD office at Mauksan village in Shan state’s Taunggyi district was surrounded by about 30 armed troops from the militia.
The confrontation erupted after NLD officials went to meet with the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone’s chairman Khun San Lwin, who is not connected to the militia but is an influential community leader. The NLD members asked for Khun San Lwin’s assistance in securing the release of two Mauksan villagers who were detained by the militia on 14 May.
The armed group allegedly incarcerated the villagers after they demanded the return of about 500 acres of farmland. Locals had begun to plough the land in preparation for the seasonal monsoon rains, which help kick off the row between the villagers and the armed group.
Khun San Lwin promised the NLD officials he would help negotiate the villagers’ release, which allegedly prompted the militia to arrest three more locals.
According to the NLD’s Shan state chairperson Khin Moe Moe, the militia claims to have solid proof that the land confiscation was legally justified and advised the villagers to follow the proper legal procedures if they want to reclaim the land.
“What I want to say importantly as the NLD Shan state chairperson is that local ethnic groups aren’t our enemy,” Khin Moe Moe.
“In fact, we should be working together as acquaintances for the benefit of our region and the nation and we wouldn’t want to be misunderstood by local ethnic groups.”
Relations have continued to deteriorate between the militia and the NLD in the dispute’s wake.
On Sunday, NLD members from Mauksan village were threatened by the armed group and warned not to continue working with local farmers who are trying to reclaim the contested land.
“The [militia] said they object to the NLD members being active with the land case and warned that there will be no return after [crossing] the Pa-O,” said Tin Maung Toe.
Several party members from Mauksan and Satthay villages have fled to Taunggyi due to fear for their safety.
Following the country’s transition to quasi-civilian rule two years, farmers have been begun to contest the myriad land confiscations that occurred during the half century of military rule.