Residents claim that a militia operating under the Pa-O National Organization (PNO) forcibly recruited members from villages in several townships in southern Shan State to fight against anti-junta resistance groups.
The army launched a series of renewed assaults in southern Shan state in April, searching for guerrillas and their bases. Armed forces operating under the PNO have been described by the resistance as fighting alongside the Myanmar military in clashes in the region, an allegation the PNO has denied.
Since the beginning of this year, anti-coup guerrilla groups have been active in the townships of Aung Ban, Kalaw, Nyaungshwe, Pindaya, Taunggyi and Ywangan, in collaboration with the defense forces based in the neighboring state. of Karenni (Kayah).
Conscription into a PNO-aligned militia has reportedly taken place in these areas since May, as well as in the townships of Lawksawk, Loilem, Mawkmai and Namsang, and the Pa-O self-administered area in Hsihseng, Hopong and Pinlaung.
Members of the local resistance forces have gone so far as to accuse the PNO of forming chapters of the army-backed Pyu Saw Htee in the region: militias of junta allies in civilian clothes usually trained and armed by the military council of Myanmar, who have been implicated in brutal attacks. on villages in central and northwestern Myanmar.
“Money and Men”
Residents told Myanmar Now of scenarios in which PNO-affiliated militia members arrived in their villages and demanded financial contributions as well as the establishment of a quota of men to be drafted into their forces.
A source said the militia carried out such an attempt in Yankin village of Hopong township in early May, calling on 13 villagers to join their group and a payment of 30,000 kyats ($16) from each household to a time when many families in the area have little or no income.
The recruits were reportedly selected at random by a lottery in which any man under the age of 45 had to submit his name.
Those who were chosen but did not want to serve had to sign a contract stating that they would find a replacement, the local source explained.
“It’s very difficult for the poor, because they ask not only for money but also for men,” he said, adding that larger villages had to offer up to 15 men.
The militia also reportedly convened a meeting of administrators from at least 20 communities in Nang Toke village in Pinlaung township on June 15 to discuss plans for forming smaller chapters, according to another resident who attended the meeting. event.
“They said at the meeting that the goal [of the recruitment] was not to fight in other areas but to protect his own village,” the individual said.
Five men from Nang Toke were reportedly selected to undergo a month of combat training, after which they would be required to teach other villagers how to fight.
Another resident of nearby Pin Som said young people in his village were opposed to their compulsory involvement in the militia.
“They don’t agree with that at all. They don’t even want to stay in that community anymore,” he said, adding that some plan to look for work across the border in Thailand to avoid conscription.
He confirmed that the recruiters had demanded the payment of 30,000 kyats from each family in his village and that this had caused significant financial hardship.
“There are families who could not pay this amount of money. They had to borrow from the village’s own funds to pay it back,” he said.
Contacted by Myanmar Now, PNO officer Lt. Col. Khun Aung Than admitted asking for financial contributions from locals.
“We need money to protect our own villages,” he said, but did not elaborate.
Regarding the allegations of forced recruitment, he said it was compulsory for men between the ages of 18 and 35 to undergo combat training and learn martial arts.
The Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) and its allies told Myanmar Now that the PNO has been seen fighting alongside junta forces in battles.
Accompanied by the Pekhon People’s Defense Forces and other local guerrilla groups, in early May the KNDF attacked a military outpost near the village of Hti Ri in Nyaungshwe, near the township’s border with Pekhon. They reported that the place was occupied by both junta and PNO personnel, and that about 15 soldiers had been killed and five taken prisoner.
PNO Lt. Col. Khun Aung Than dismissed the allegation that his group was collaborating with the army, but did not deny the presence of PNO members at the outpost.
“It’s true that we were with the military as it is inside our territory. We have never entered anyone’s territory, but we will attack anyone who enters ours,” he said.
The PNO was founded in 1949 but was restructured into a militia after its leaders signed a ceasefire with an earlier junta in 1991. It is currently led by Aung Kham Hti, who is known to have close ties with the army.