By KO HTWE
Burmese government troops fighting with Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) Brigade 1 near Tangyan and Mongshu townships in Shan State are using local women as human shields and forced porters, according to sources.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, a resident of Mongshu Township said Burmese troops abducted the women mainly as a defense against ambushes.
“There are very few men in the villages now because most have fled the area for fear of being conscripted as porters. So now the troops are taking women and forcing them to march to the front line with them, as a way to prevent guerrilla attacks from the SSA-North,” said the Mongshu resident.
She added that many villagers have fled to the town to avoid being taken as porters, and some complained that Burmese troops had taken their cattle for transport.
Saengjuen Sarawin, an editor with the Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News, said that Burmese troops took 19 people, including 12 women, from a village in Tangyan Township earlier this month.
“They take the women with them when they are searching for SSA-North troops in the jungle, because the SSA soldiers try to avoid clashes with Burmese troops when there is a danger of harming local villagers,” said Saengjuen Sarawin.
Many of the male porters taken by the Burmese army are more than 50 years old, because younger people are able to run away, he added.
In the recent statement, the Shan Human Rights Foundation stated that women in the conflict zone are also being targeted for sexual violence. Three women were recently gang-raped in separate incidents in area, the group said.
There has been continuous fighting since February between Burmese government forces and SSA-North Brigade 1 in Mongshu, Tangyan and Kyathi townships, causing many residents to flee the area.
Brigade 1 controls territory in Kyethi and Monghsu townships in southern Shan State, as well as Mongyai and Tangyan townships in the northern part of the state.
A breakaway faction of the SSA-North, Brigade 1 is led by Col Pang Fa and is estimated to be the strongest of the SSA-North's three brigades, with some 3,000 troops.
Unlike the SSA-North's other two factions—Brigades 3 and 7—Pang Fa's unit refused to join the regime's Border Guard Force (BGF) plan, which places cease-fire armies under Burmese military command.
Since last year, the Burmese regime has pressured 17 cease-fire armies to accept the BGF plan, but only a few have joined.
The largest groups, including the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Kachin Independence Army, are among those who rejected the scheme.
The UWSA and the Shan State Army-South, which never signed a cease-fire agreement with the junta, have offered support to SSA-North Brigade 1 since it resumed hostilities with the Burmese army.