Ethnic clashes: Thousands flee northern Myanmar state

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Shan State Army-South
Soldiers of the Shan State Army-South

More than 3,000 people fled their homes in northern Myanmar after new clashes between two ethnic rebel groups erupted, the United Nations said on February 16. Heavy fighting broke out in the northern state of Shan last week between the Restoration Council for Shan State (RCSS), also known as Shan State Army-South, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

“We are receiving reports that more than 3,000 people have been displaced in the past week,” said Mark Cutts, country head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The two ethnic armed groups are turning on each other during a complicated transition from an army-backed government to Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party in Myanmar, highlighting the persistent and deep ethnic problems the country is still suffering from. Despite efforts to sign a nationwide peace deal,  the outgoing government refused to include a number of groups currently engaged in fighting, including the TNLA.

Myanmar’s ethnic conflict is the longest in modern world history and is all but over after Aung San Suu Kyi won the recent elections, although she has been pledging to end hostilities between the central government and the host of autonomy-seeking ethnic minorities.

The rebel armies represent various ethnic groups that for decades have been fighting for autonomy while resisting “Burmanisation,” a push by the Burmese ethnic majority to propagate its language, religion and culture in ethnic minority regions. Sometimes, as in the current case, they are also turning against each other.

The insurgency erupted in the early 1960s among the Shan, the largest of a total of 135 officially recognised ethnic minorities that together make up 40 per cent of the population. The first uprising was launched 67 years ago, shortly after the country’s 1948 independence from Great Britain, followed by numerous others.

Complicating the situation is that the Shan state is a major opium-growing and ruby-mining area within Myanmar, and narcotics trafficking and precious stone-smuggling has became a vital source of revenue for the insurgents, but also the root of widespread corruption within the federal government dealing with insurgency issues. There is also strong economical influence from Chinese traders in the region.

The former government sometimes called the northern insurgent groups “terrorist organisations.” But nobody has been brought to justice yet, and even Suu Kyi did not announce any concrete plans to do so while the military continues to operate in its former fashion.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Soldiers of the Shan State Army-South

More than 3,000 people fled their homes in northern Myanmar after new clashes between two ethnic rebel groups erupted, the United Nations said on February 16. Heavy fighting broke out in the northern state of Shan last week between the Restoration Council for Shan State (RCSS), also known as Shan State Army-South, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Shan State Army-South
Soldiers of the Shan State Army-South

More than 3,000 people fled their homes in northern Myanmar after new clashes between two ethnic rebel groups erupted, the United Nations said on February 16. Heavy fighting broke out in the northern state of Shan last week between the Restoration Council for Shan State (RCSS), also known as Shan State Army-South, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

“We are receiving reports that more than 3,000 people have been displaced in the past week,” said Mark Cutts, country head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The two ethnic armed groups are turning on each other during a complicated transition from an army-backed government to Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party in Myanmar, highlighting the persistent and deep ethnic problems the country is still suffering from. Despite efforts to sign a nationwide peace deal,  the outgoing government refused to include a number of groups currently engaged in fighting, including the TNLA.

Myanmar’s ethnic conflict is the longest in modern world history and is all but over after Aung San Suu Kyi won the recent elections, although she has been pledging to end hostilities between the central government and the host of autonomy-seeking ethnic minorities.

The rebel armies represent various ethnic groups that for decades have been fighting for autonomy while resisting “Burmanisation,” a push by the Burmese ethnic majority to propagate its language, religion and culture in ethnic minority regions. Sometimes, as in the current case, they are also turning against each other.

The insurgency erupted in the early 1960s among the Shan, the largest of a total of 135 officially recognised ethnic minorities that together make up 40 per cent of the population. The first uprising was launched 67 years ago, shortly after the country’s 1948 independence from Great Britain, followed by numerous others.

Complicating the situation is that the Shan state is a major opium-growing and ruby-mining area within Myanmar, and narcotics trafficking and precious stone-smuggling has became a vital source of revenue for the insurgents, but also the root of widespread corruption within the federal government dealing with insurgency issues. There is also strong economical influence from Chinese traders in the region.

The former government sometimes called the northern insurgent groups “terrorist organisations.” But nobody has been brought to justice yet, and even Suu Kyi did not announce any concrete plans to do so while the military continues to operate in its former fashion.

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