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Radio Free Asia

Militia Kills Nine Military Troops in Convoy Ambush in Myanmar's War-Torn Sagaing Region

2021-06-28 -- Militiamen killed at least nine junta soldiers in northwest Myanmar's war-torn Sagaing region over the weekend in a two-pronged attack on a convoy heading to Kalay township, while 3,000 villagers fled the area amid intensified raids on civilian homes and in anticipation of a major military offensive, fighters said Monday.

The Kalay branch of the People's Defense Force (PDF) militia said in a statement that two of its units ambushed the convoy around 1:00 p.m. Sunday between Khway Kyin and Than Pho villages, some 15 miles from the center of the township of 400,000, killing the nine soldiers in a firefight. More than half the population of Kalay is ethnic Chin.

RFA's Myanmar Service was unable to independently verify the PDF's claims.

Separately, two bomb blasts occurred in downtown Kalay on Sunday, according to a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

The first explosion occurred at 11:00 a.m. in front of the Myanmar Shaysaung Bank on Kalay's Bogyoke Road, while the second took place at around 3:00 p.m. near the local government's Supaung Office.

"The military has strengthened its presence in the town and tightened its checkpoints," the resident said.

"A bomb exploded near the Myanmar Shaysaung Bank … No one was injured. It happened about 100 yards from where I was."

Additional details of the bomb blasts were not immediately available.

Sources told RFA that military troops had conducted a search for PDF members in several villages near the scene of Sunday's violence, "shooting randomly" as they entered the areas and making multiple arrests.

In one case, a resident said, when a militia member was not at home, soldiers "took his wife and his 12-year-old daughter away … [and] even hit the girl as they detained her."

"People had to run away, some with their families, on motorcycles and cars," the resident said.

Other sources said four people were arrested in Htaukkyant village, prompting about 3,000 residents from seven villages along the Gangaw-Kalay Highway to flee into the mountains.

The PDF said Sunday's attack occurred a day after it ambushed a convoy of more than 20 military vehicles headed to Kalay from nearby Gangaw township, although the number of casualties was unclear.

Attempts by RFA to contact the military's Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun for comment on the fighting over the weekend went unanswered.

Growing conflict

There have been at least seven clashes in Kalay between PDF forces and the military in the months since early April, when the military used heavy artillery to smash barricades and disperse people peacefully demonstrating against the junta's Feb. 1 takeover of the government. Junta forces have since killed some 40 residents of the township, according to local sources.

The junta has attempted to justify its coup with claims that Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party stole Myanmar's November 2020 general election but has yet to provide evidence of alleged voter fraud. The military has violently suppressed widespread protests, killing at least 883 people and arresting more than 5,200, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

On Monday, a member of the PDF in Kalay told RFA that around 60 vehicles loaded with military troops had arrived in Sagaing over the past two days in preparation for a major offensive against his branch of the militia, as well as others in the region.

"I think they have been surveilling the situation from the sky with a chopper," he said.

"They appear to have moved into the entire region, as there are PDF branches through Mindat and Tamu [townships] along the Chindwin River, and there were also clashes in Mingin area."

Residents frightened

Residents of Kalay told RFA they are frightened for their safety amid the increased military presence in the township, citing reports of abuse, detentions, and even deaths in custody.

In one case, the military arrested a 47-year-old ethnic Chin man named Zaw Myint and his 26-year-old son Zaw Htet on June 25 without providing a reason, and the son died under mysterious circumstances in custody the following day, according to family members.

Zaw Htet's mother said family members were informed that he had "died of COVID-19" and were only permitted to see his body briefly before troops interred him.

"He didn't have COVID earlier and he was a healthy man—he even came to have lunch at my house that morning," she said.

"We saw his body at the hospital only briefly. They told us we mustn't touch his body because we might get infected with the virus, and then he was taken in an ambulance to the cemetery. When we arrived there, his body was already cremated."

Family members told RFA they believe Zaw Htet likely died of severe torture while in detention and expressed concern that his father, who remains in custody, is also at risk.

Sources said Zaw Htet was only one of three people to die in less than 24 hours while in military interrogation in Kalay—the other two being Mai Ngum Zar Tiang and Min Min. The military also claimed that Mai Ngum Za Tiang died from COVID-19, they said.

A resident, who declined to be named, told RFA that "as many as 20 people have died in custody" at military interrogation centers in Kalay.

"They are using violence and torture to instill fear among members of the public, but people are more determined than ever to fight back," the resident said.

"With every new case, they become even more determined to avenge the dead."

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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