Locals in the Mongshu region of southern Shan state have been advised to leave their homes as rumours spread that the Burmese army will use chemical weapons on Shan insurgents based nearby.
The warning came from the Shan State Army, which has been fighting government troops since March around Mongshu and Hsipaw. On 3 June, Shan soldiers reported that shells fired by the Burmese army at the 7-Mile base near Mongshu contained a substance that knocked some unconscious and gave others breathing problems and nausea.
Sources told DVB that since the warning went out earlier this week, the population of the SSA’s Wanhai base in Mongshu had all but left.
“We ordered civilians and workers in our region to relocate when we obtained information that the Burmese army will use chemicals,” said SSA communications official, Colonel Perng Fa. “It would be very harmful to them so we told them to move to a safe location as a precaution.”
Although use of chemical-laced shells in the 3 June assault cannot be independently verified, the symptoms described mirror reports of alleged chemical weapons use elsewhere in Burma. A 2005 report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide found circumstantial evidence that the Burmese army had fired mustard gas shells at Karenni Army troops, leaving them vomiting and unable to walk.
Similarly the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) said that in both 1992 and 1995 during major offensives against the Karen National Union (KNU), “many [Karen] soldiers… spoke of suffering from ‘dizziness, nausea, vomiting and unconsciousness’ after inhaling the vapours emitted from shells”.
Then in September 2009, the Kachin News Group (KNG) quoted army sources as saying that “mortars laced with chemical ingredients” were being supplied to Burmese battalions in Shan and Kachin state.
Close to 100 battles have erupted between Burmese troops and the SSA since its northern faction in March ended a ceasefire with the government. The first clash followed the SSA’s refusal to become a Naypyidaw-controlled Border Guard Force.
Similar refusals have triggered heavy fighting in Kachin state and Karen state in recent months.
Although the Burmese government signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, requiring states to destroy all chemical weapons by 2012, it has so far refused to ratify it. US officials have in the past identified Burma as a “probable” chemical weapons possessor.