8 days after they made their vanishing act on May 17, there is still no news of the 4 Chinese engineers and a local interpreter from the Chinese firm working at the Tasang hydropower dam site, on both their whereabouts and whether they are still alive, according to local sources.
The Shan State Army of Lt-Gen Yawdserk that has been fighting against Naypyitaw for autonomy has categorically denied the group has anything to do with their disappearance.
Shan State East’s Mongton township, where the Tasang dam project is located, is the stamping ground of the SSA’s 727th Brigade, based at Loi Hsarm Hsip, opposite Chiangmai’s Fang district. “They have not been touring the area for many months now, since the Wa accused them of trying to worsen the relations between the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Burma Army,” said a source close to Loi Hsarm Hsip.
Several clashes had taken place between the SSA and the Burma Army until January this year. The UWSA that had been on uneasy terms with Naypyitaw since its refusal to accept the Burma Army’s Border Guard Force (BGF) program without a political settlement first, had reportedly warned the SSA it was not helping the situation by its military activities.
The Wa’s 171st Military Region is also operating in Mongton and Monghsat townships.
The Burma Army’s Military Operations (MOC) # 17, based in Mongpan, is responsible for the security of the dam project, on the western bank of the Salween, while MOC #14, based in Mong Hsat, is responsible for the security an its eastern bank. Each has 10 infantry battalions.
One other question was what the 4 engineers were doing on the holy day of Vesak, an official holiday.
According to the locals, several gold digging boats have been active upstream. Gold found in the Salween, known as Kham Khong to the Shans, is reputed to be high grade ore. “The Chinese workers at the dam site were really interested in Kham Khong,” said a local who arrived at the border. “It was usual to see them diving along the river to look for it.”
The SSA chief Lt-Gen Yawdserk has promised to look into the matter – if asked.
The Chinese firm is offering an unspecified reward for the safe return of its men, according to Laotian source on the Golden Triangle. However, so far there has been no demand for ransom, if the missing 4 engineers were kidnapped.
According to U Aung Kyaw Zaw, Burma analyst based on the Sino-Burma border, 3 guides and the interpreter have been released, but the 4 engineers remain under custody by an unidentified armed group.