Fresh fighting that broke out late last week between two armed ethnic groups in Kyaukme district of? northern Myanmar's Shan state has forced nearly 350 villagers from Hsipaw township, including 100 children, to flee to safety in a Buddhist monastery, said a member of Myanmar's parliament who visited the refugees on Monday.
The residents of Man Lwe village are seeking shelter inside the Yadana Shwegu monastery following an armed clash that broke out late last week between the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), said lawmaker Nang Moe.
"There are about 340 refugees, including 100 children and 18 people over 80 years old," she told RFA's Myanmar Service. "They are from more than 100 households."
"All people from Man Lwe village have fled to Thibaw, and the school is closed," she said.
The villagers told Nang Moe that they fled because they were forced to provide food to both TNL soldiers and SSA soldiers. If either side discovered that the villagers were supporting their enemy, they beat the residents, they said.
"It will be difficult for them to survive because this is the farming and tea-leaf picking season, and they can't do this work due to the fighting," she said.
RCSS/SSA troops were not letting residents from the township, especially ethnic Palaung (Ta'ang) people, enter the area around the village to take food to the villagers.
"Sometimes Shan ethnics and Burmese can go in, but it's very difficult," Nang Moe said. "That's why people from this village don't have any food. We heard that they are eating only leaves around their village."
The same villagers fled to the same town in May due to fighting between the two rebel armies, but returned to their homes a month later.
The Shan state government has donated 10 million kyat (U.S. $8,500) to assist the refugees, but residents of affected areas say township administrators have not used all the funds to help the refugees.
The hostilities and a landmine explosion have also forced locals from various villagers in Mine Ton township to seek shelter inside Shwemyintha monastery in Namtu township, according to a report by the Myanmar Times.
Fighting since November
The TNLA officially announced on Monday that it is engaged in new hostilities with the RCSS/SSA.
Fighting between the two groups began last November when the RCSS, the political organization that oversees the SSA, signed a nationwide ceasefire agreement between the government and eight of the country's armed ethnic groups last October.
The TNLA, however, was excluded because it was engaged in fighting against the Myanmar army.
A month later, Myanmar's army teamed up with the RCSS, and launched an offensive against the holdout TNLA army in Shan state's Namhkam township.
The hostilities have now displaced thousands of people.
The fighting comes as the government prepares to hold a national-level peace conference with armed ethnic groups in late August.
Reported by Zin Mar Win for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
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