Two thousand villagers were forced to flee when over 1.000 Burmese government troops attacked their villages in Nawng Khio township with small arms fire and mortar shells and tortured residents for information earlier this month.
According to a recently released Shan Human Rights Foundation report (SHRF) the attacks happened from March 1-2.
The 11 villages that were attacked are 70km southwest of the state capital Lashio and within 10 miles of China’s oil and gas pipeline, which crosses Burma.
Sai Hor Hseng from SHRF speculated that the base was attacked because the authorities want to clear out any armed groups that are in the vicinity of the Chinese pipeline.
He said: “Last year we heard, which might be true or not, that on the authority of the highest officials all the armed groups from around here must be cleared out, so this could be the reason they started the attack.
“They [the villagers] are worried that this type of fighting will happen again.”
According to the report, once the villagers had fled the army used the villages as a base to attack and destroy a Shan State Army North (SSA-N) base about three hours to the north.
On February 26 the army set up camp in the forest around the villages. They also camped at temples in three of the villages. They were Si Ku, Wan Kai Ak and Pang Tee.
The troops commandeered rice, chickens and pigs from villagers. They offered the owners no compensation and then slaughtered their livestock in front of them.
Despite this, according to Sai Hor Hseng, the soldiers initially said they would harm no one and there was no shooting.
He said the trouble started after a soldier trod on a mine on March 1. No one knows if it had ben planted by the government troops or by the SSA-N. After this incident the soldiers’ attitude changed.
On March 1 soldiers arrested several villagers, including the headman of Wan Kai Ak and some elderly women. They interrogated them at gunpoint about the local SSA-N troops’ positions and strengths, even though the villagers were unconnected to the SSA-N.
One villager, Sai Moo, had a walkie-talkie, which made soldiers suspect he was an SSA-N soldier. As a result they interrogated him and beat him so severely that he lost nearly all his teeth. He was then held captive overnight in a basket with wood piled on top of it before being handed over to police in Nawng Khio, where he remains in custody.
On March 11, without any warning, the troops also started indiscriminately firing small arms and mortars into the 11 villages. Despite the fact that there were no Shan troops in any of the villages and there was no return of fire, the soldiers continued firing into the villages until March 2.
A Burmese soldier inside a village was even radioing encouragement to the soldiers firing into the village. Villagers heard him saying: “That’s good. Keep firing.”
Sai Hor Hseng said the soldiers already knew that there were no SSA-N troops in any of the villages before they started firing. This is why he thinks the shooting was just retaliation for the injuries suffered by the soldier who stepped on the mine.
A villager interviewed by SHRF said: “We are ordinary people. We have no guns. There was no reason to shoot into our village. There were no Shan soldiers there. They had already withdrawn before the Burmese soldiers arrived, so why did they shoot?”
These assaults forced most of the villagers, about 2.000 people, to leave their villages and seek shelter in other nearby villages.
Many buildings were damaged, they included a school at Wan Na Hee and a temple at Wan Si Ku.
The Burmese troops withdrew from the villages on March 5 after they had successfully attacked the SSA-N base and burnt it down.
After they left the villagers returned to start rebuilding. Villagers in Na Hee also had to cope with an unexploded mortar round.
So far, despite villagers’ requests, no government officials have come to defuse the mortar round or inspect any of the damage caused.