Pa-O groups speak out against PNO plan to form new ‘security force’

Pa-O groups opposed to Myanmar’s military regime have denounced plans by the Pa-O National Organisation (PNO) to form a new civilian “security force” within its territory.

The plan, announced in a statement released on Wednesday, was seen by many as part of the PNO’s efforts to support the junta that seized power in February of last year.

The PNO, which has been close to Myanmar’s military since it signed a ceasefire agreement in 1991, controls the three southern Shan State townships of Hsihseng, Hopong and Pinlaung that comprise the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone.

Calling the move an attempt to create an ethnic Pa-O version of the Pyu Saw Htee militia that has been used to suppress anti-regime groups in other parts of the country, a member of one group called on local people to spurn the PNO’s efforts.

“I would like to urge the public to reject cowardly organisations that can’t resist the junta’s orders to exploit the Pa-O people,” said a member of the Pa-O People’s Defence Force—Kham Dom.

“People should ask themselves if they want to be mere grunts under this regime,” he added.

The spokesperson for another group contacted by Myanmar Now, the Pa-O National Federal Council (PNFC), had a similar reaction to the PNO’s announcement.

“The public need to know that they are being tricked. The Pa-O people have always revolted against bad systems throughout history, and they need to pick the right side this time, too,” the PNFC spokesperson said.

Khun Thiha Htoo Zaw, an officer of the Pa-O National Defence Force, suggested that the real reason for recruiting civilians was to deter resistance groups from attacking regime forces.

“Anyone who takes their military training will inevitably be used as human shields,” he said, adding that Myanmar’s military routinely uses civilians in this way.

He also said that civilians should avoid being used by the military in other ways—namely, as informants. 

Locals say that a militia affiliated with the PNO has been forcibly recruiting men since May. Members of the militia have also been accused of demanding money from poor villagers.

Speaking to Myanmar Now last week, PNO officer Lt-Col Khun Aung Than admitted that civilians living within its territory were expected to provide financial support. 

“We need money to protect our own villages,” he said without elaborating.

He denied, however, that the PNO had formed a militia, saying that it had merely imposed mandatory combat and martial arts training on all men between the ages of 18 and 35 “to protect their neighbourhoods when the need arises.”

In May, anti-regime forces that overran an outpost in Shan State’s Nyaungshwe Township reported that they had captured three members of the Pa-O National Army, the PNO’s armed wing, who were fighting alongside junta troops.

However, Khun Aung Than rejected allegations that the PNO was collaborating with regime forces.

“It is true that we were with the military personnel as it is inside our territory. We have never trespassed into anyone’s territory but we will attack whoever trespasses into ours,” he said.

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