Artillery shells, taxes take high toll on Shan villagers

Artillery shells, taxes take high toll on Shan villagers

A civilian was injured and three homes destroyed in northern Shan State’s Kyaukme Township during clashes between Burmese government forces and the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA) on Wednesday.

Tin Maung Thein, the chairman of local charity group the Kyaukme Social Assistance Association said fighting broke out on 11 May between the Burmese army and the TNLA on the outskirts of Kyaukme near the village of Tohsang when an artillery shell landed and exploded in the village.

“On Wednesday morning, TNLA forces were on the move to Tohsang from the village of Kalowai. They took positions on the cemetery hill next to the village and began shelling the Burmese government forces that later arrived in the village,” said Tin Maung Thein.

“Three homes were destroyed when a shell landed and exploded in the village although we are not sure who was responsible for that.”

He added that a resident from the village of Tonhkan was also hit and wounded by shrapnel on the way home from his farm on 10 May.

“A Tonhkan resident named U Maung was on his way home from his farm when he was hit by shrapnel, but he only made it to [Kyaukme] the following day due to transportation problems. He had a piece of shrapnel in his left buttock and we took him to the hospital, where he is in stable condition,” said Tin Maung Thein.

The government media confirmed a civilian was injured by shrapnel when an artillery shell exploded in the area.

The TNLA also released a statement regarding the incident on 11 May, claiming civilian homes were destroyed by the Burmese army’s artillery shelling.

Renewed fighting between ethnic armed groups and government forces in northern Shan State displaced some 1,600 local civilians on 7 and 8 May, forcing them to flee their homes to take shelter in Kyaukme and Hsipaw towns, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Civilians also complain that the armed groups are extracting heavy taxes to fund their armed struggle.

“There are various armed groups operating in northern Shan state, each with their own territory, so we have to pay taxes to these armed groups as well as to the government. We are rural people who make a living by farming and this is hurting our livelihood,” said one villager who spoke to DVB.

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“Here in the rural Shan hills, armed groups are imposing heavy taxes on us in the name of the revolution, and this has been going on for more than 60 years,” said another villager. “All we can do is cry and pay the money; if we don’t have enough, we borrow from elsewhere, since they threaten to kill us if we can’t pay up.”

In response to these charges, a TNLA spokesperson told DVB that the tax burden on local villagers would only lessen once peace was achieved in the region.

“In order to end the taxation, the government and armed groups should resolve their issues at a political round table and when everyone has their territories specified and can trust the government, then the civilians will no longer have to pay tax to these armed groups, and will only have to pay the official tax to the government,” he said.

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