Shan political party calls for release of members, villagers allegedly held by TNLA

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By Myanmar Times / 13 December 2016

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy has called for the release of five party members together with more than 30 other detainees allegedly abducted by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.

The five SNLD members from Pan Kwan village in Kyaukme township were abducted by the ethnic armed group on the night of December 10, said a statement from the party released yesterday.

The detainees were recruited by force to become TNLA fighters, it continued.

Sai Leik, a spokesperson for the ethnic Shan party, said the TNLA’s actions were questionable, as it has previously declared its desire to hold peace talks with the Union government.

“We are trying for the release of the detained party members in collaboration with the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee,” he said.

The SNLD statement said party MPs in the Shan State legislature stood in opposition to a recent proposal from a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmaker to designate as “terrorist insurgents organisations” the four ethnic armed groups referring to their collective forces as the Northern Alliance.

According to the SNLD statement, 24 villagers from Pan Kwan village – including the five SNLD members – were abducted on December 10. Eleven residents of Mine Tat village and one from Mannar village in Namtu township were also detained by the TNLA last month, bringing the total number of detainees to 36, said the statement.

“We call for the release of all the villagers,” Sai Leik said.

TNLA representatives could not be reached for comment yesterday.

After a meeting on December 11 in Yangon, the eight ethnic armed groups that are signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement publicly objected to the controversial “terrorist” label being used to describe the Northern Alliance.

Despite the Tatmadaw-run newspaper Myawady referring to the four ethnic armed groups as “insurgents”, a term equivalent to “terrorist insurgent groups” in the Myanmar language is currently being used in the military’s official news releases.

The NCA signatory groups said use of the term had negatively impacted the country’s peace process.

“Since any attempt to recognise any leader of any ethnic armed group or any group as terrorist organisations is damaging the efforts to build peace and national reconciliation, we object to such a move,” said a joint statement from the NCA signatories.

Instead, the signatory groups have suggested that cooperation should be increased between non-signatory ethnic armed groups and the government in pursuit of peace.

The Northern Alliance consists of four non-signatory ethnic armed groups – the Kachin Independence Army, the TNLA, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army. The alliance launched coordinated attacks against military and police outposts in northern Shan State’s Muse and Kutkai townships on November 20.

Border trade between China and Myanmar has suffered amid the armed hostilities, which have continued in the wake of the initial attack. According to the Information Committee of the State Counsellor’s Office, 14 people including 10 civilians had been killed through November 30, while 50 others were injured.

Tensions had reportedly eased last week with Tatmadaw forces recapturing the border town of Mong Koe.

Speaking in the Pyithu Hluttaw last week, Defence Minister Lieutenant-General Sein Win suggested that parliament should designate members of the Northern Alliance as “terrorist organisations”.

Days later, a proposal to recognise the four groups as “terrorist insurgent organisations” was put forward by a USDP MP in the Shan State parliament, with a plurality of USDP lawmakers joined by military appointees to secure a majority in favour of the proposal, over the objections of the National League for Democracy and ethnic MPs.

The US embassy in Yangon released a statement yesterday saying it was “deeply concerned” by the fighting in Kachin and northern Shan states.

The embassy called for “restraint from all sides” and urged “immediate, unfettered humanitarian access to all those affected by conflict throughout the country”.

NCA signatories met with government’s peace commission to discuss holding national-level dialogues yesterday in Yangon.

U Khun Myint Tun, chair of the Pa-O National Liberation Organisation, said representatives of the eight ethnic armed groups and the government discussed the formation of supervisory committees for states and regions.

“The supervisory committee is responsible for supervising the national-level political dialogues. We discussed that it should be formed with three representatives each from the government, ethnic armed organisations and political parties, totalling nine,” he said.

He also said his organisation would hold preparation meetings with the Pa-O National Organisation, an officially registered ethnic political party, and other civil society groups.

The three Karen ethnic armed groups that are NCA signatories last month announced that they would hold national-level dialogues jointly on “ethnically based” issues.

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