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Inhabitants of six villages in southern Shan state have been ordered to relocate as the Burmese army looks to isolate Shan rebels operating in the region.
More than 190 families in the Kunhing township villages have been told to leave by the end of March and will be forced to move closer to the road connecting Kunhing to the town of Nansang.
One Kunhing resident said that move was aimed at “curbing support for Shan rebels”, likely referring to the Shan State Army–South (SSA–South), which holds sway over a large part of the southern Shan region.
The order came hot on the heels of fighting between Burmese troops and the SSA–South on 10 and 11 March in the Kunhing district. Reports surfaced at the time that villagers were forcibly abducted to serve as porters during a fight in nearby Mongshu township, while some were told to show troops the location of nearby Shan army bases.
The relocation is part of the junta’s so-called ‘four cuts’ strategy which looks to sever lines of support and communication for Burma’s various ethnic armed groups. The country’s military generals ordered troops to re-launch the maligned tactic in order to rout defiant opposition armies like the SSA–South who have refused its demands to become border security forces.
In the country’s remote border regions, swathes of which are under the control of ethnic armies, the Burmese junta considers the line between civilian and insurgent heavily blurred and thus regularly targets rural populations it deems guilty of supporting the groups.
The ‘four cuts’ has also seen a renaissance in Burma’s west, where troops are fighting the Arakan Liberation Army, but it has struggled to apply a strategy designed for lowland warfare in the mountainous border regions.
Fighting also broke out further north in Shan state after Burmese troops on 13 March launched an attack on bases belonging to the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North).
The series of assaults came as the junta supposedly gave the group an ultimatum to withdraw from its bases by 20 March and fully surrender by 1 April.
The location of the bases, in Namlao, is seen as a key strategic target, both in the fight against the SSA-North but also against the larger and more powerful United Wa State Army (UWSA) – the Burmese junta fears the UWSA will coordinate with SSA–South to aid the SSA–North.