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Shan State, Myanmar.

A few days before December 25th, violence broke out between two ethnic armed groups in the Northern part of Shan State. A girl from a local village was killed and three other civilians were injured during the conflict. Civilian monitors, trained by Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) and supported by local partner Shalom (Nyein) Foundation, responded to prevent further casualties. (Photo: Nonviolent Peaceforce trains a group of local monitors in Myanmar)

The monitors engaged both armed groups and negotiated a three-hour ceasefire to evacuate 300 civilians caught in the crossfire. They worked with community leaders from a local township, who lent them a few trucks to transport the civilians to a safe area. The monitors referred the injured civilians to local community based organisations, who ensured medical treatment. Approximately, 1,150 civilians have been displaced during these clashes and are taking shelter in monasteries and houses of relatives. During the clashes, clinics, farming equipment and civilian houses were destroyed.

Northern Shan is one of the areas most affected by armed conflict in Myanmar and home to at least seven armed groups. Two of the groups signed the National Ceasefire Agreement in October 2015. Though the ethnic armed groups mostly fight against the Myanmar Army, they occasionally fight each other. In November 2016, four armed groups from Shan State and Kachin State formed the Northern Alliance-Burma and launched a military offensive against the Myanmar Army. Thirty thousand people were reportedly displaced during the fighting that resulted, including some civilian monitors. One humanitarian worker was killed in November, when he was trying to deliver aid to the displaced population, creating fear among other humanitarian actors and resulting in reduced access to humanitarian support. Fears further increased when the Shan State parliament declared the members of the Northern Alliance as ‘terrorist groups.’

The monitors from Northern Shan have been active in responding to the fighting by protecting civilians from the very start of the project. During their first skill-building training facilitated by NP, they engaged with local police officers who visited the training. The training provided the opportunity to talk with the police in a different setting and begin building a relationship with the department. Because of this, the monitors were able to negotiate the release of 19 civilians over the next few months.

To continue the monitors' education and skill building, several will travel to Mindanao, Philippines to have an exchange with NP's monitors there. With clashes expected to continue in 2017, it is important that civilian monitors learn from one another and share examples of the impact of unarmed civilian protection.