Hundreds of Palaung locals in northern Shan state have been conscripted by rebel militias after fighting broke out between armed ethnic groups and government forces, reports from the region claim.
According to Mai Kae Dang, general secretary of the Ta’ang Students and Youth Organisation (TSYO), the Shan State Army South (SSA-S) has since mid February conscripted about 300 locals from villages near Namhsan.
The skirmishes in northern Shan state’s Namsang township, the capital of the Palaung Self-Administered Zone, are said to be keeping the Palaung (Ta’ang) people out of their tea fields during harvest, due to conscription.
The TYSO, based at the Thai-Burma border, said fresh clashes broke out between the Burmese army, the Kachin Independence Army and the SSA-S on 11 and 12 March close to Namhai, Pinglon, Mannauk and Pangswe villages.
“If we cannot harvest our [tea] by mid-April, then we will be facing a lot of hardship,” said Mai Kae Dang.
According to the general secretary similar clashes broke out last year between the SSA-S and the Burmese army, which prevented the Palaung from reaping their harvest in entirety.
“Now this is happening again,” said Mai Kae Dang. “We have nobody to help harvest due to [conscription] and some of the crops have already gone bad.”
Major Sai Lao Hseng, spokesperson of the SSA-S and its political wing, the Shan State Restoration Council, said the group is looking into the matter and will punish personnel who were responsible for recruiting locals without official permission.
“We have some guerrilla units in the region, but there are also troops from the Shan State Army-North. So we need time to distinguish which group is actually [conscripting],” said the major. “We need to investigate this thoroughly. If we find our troops [disregarding] regulations, then we will have to take action.”
The SSA-S previously pledged to end forced conscription and reduce the amount of ‘taxes’ they collected from local civilians after signing a ceasefire with the government. The group recently opened liaison offices in Taunggyi, Kengtung, Tachilek, Hkolum and Mongsat towns following the agreement with the government.