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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Radio Free Asia

Fresh Clashes in Myanmar's Remote Ethnic Regions Lead to Casualties, Displacement

2021-08-05 -- Clashes between the military and rebel groups in Myanmar's remote ethnic regions have left several government troops dead and injured in recent days, according to sources, while vulnerable refugees in camps along the country's northwestern borders are in desperate need of supplies, aid workers said.

Fighting since the Feb. 1 overthrow of the elected government in a military coup has raged from Kachin state in the far north near China to the southern Karen state, displacing about a quarter million people, mostly ethnic minorities. Conflicts are also flaring up in western Chin state, near India and Bangladesh.

At least four armed engagements occurred Tuesday in Kayah state's Hpruso and Bawlakhe townships between the military's No. 66 Division and a combined force of fighters from the ethnic rebel Karenni Army (KA) and the Karenni National Defense Force (KNDF) militia formed to protect the public from junta offensives, according to the Karenni National Development Party (KNDPP).

The KNDPP secretary, who goes by the name Daniel, told RFA's Myanmar Service that the clashes in Htar Lae and Mar Craw Shae villages left 11 junta soldiers dead and at least 20 wounded.

"This No. 66 Division is not local division. They immediately began military operations upon their arrival to the region and are regularly engaged in battles whenever they go," he said.

"They are involved in clearance operations and have been provoking KNDF troops to enter armed engagements. There will be more battles."

A resident of the area said nearly 3,000 people from six villages had fled the fighting, despite heavy rains.

"They fled and took shelter nearby because they can't go any further [in the bad weather]," they said.

Additional fighting occurred on Wednesday night in the Kayah state capital Loikaw, according to residents, who said they heard an initial bomb explosion around 8:30 p.m., followed by a series of artillery blasts and gunfire. Several homes were damaged, they said.

A woman from Loikaw who spoke on condition of anonymity said that a 16-year-old girl from the city's Naung Yar ward was injured in one of the blasts.

"The military troops were firing their artillery randomly. The girl was in her home and the shell hit, causing a fragment to enter her leg," she said.

A resident named Palan said the KNDF attacked a military office in Loikaw using an improvised explosive, prompting junta troops to respond.

Loikaw was quiet on Thursday, despite the fighting the night before, residents said.

A KNDF member who declined to be named confirmed to RFA that his group had been secretly working on targeted bombings at the military offices in Loikaw but said they had avoided armed engagements in the city.

"I think there are prospects for armed engagements in the forest, outside the city," he said. "The military troops will advance toward us. We will resist them. We will not retreat."

According to the KNDF, military troops also launched offensives on Wednesday near Bee Thu and Khu Pra Taung villages in Kayah's embattled Demoso township. A combined force of KNDF and KA soldiers responded, killing three soldiers and wounding several, the group said.
IDPs at risk

The military and the KNDF have been engaging regularly since May 20, with the fighting spreading to Loikaw, Demoso and Kayah's Bawlakhe township, as well as Moe Byae township in Shan state.

The fighting has forced 121,400 civilians to flee their homes in Kayah and Shan states, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said last week.

Volunteers told RFA that more than 1,000—half of which are women and children—are currently sheltering at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in territory controlled by the KNPP near Myanmar's borders with Thailand and Myanmar.

Maw Pray Myar, the deputy secretary of the Karenni Women Organization (KNWO), said there is a severe shortage of medicine and supplies for women, children, and pregnant women in the camp.

"The rescue committee is administering the camp. They provide the necessary aid to IDPs," she said.

"The KNWO helps them to provide maternity items and feminine care products. We never have enough of these materials."

A Karenni medical worker told RFA that the camp lacks the vaccines needed to provide young children with their regular immunizations and is seeking donors to assist.

"We can give the initial vaccines at birth, if the baby is born in the camp, but we cannot provide additional vaccines to these babies," they said, adding that a failure to administer other regular immunizations could lead to long term health issues.

The medical worker said the camp is also ill-equipped to treat pregnant mothers.

A woman who is seven months pregnant told RFA she is worried about delivering her child because she has not had access to adequate medicine or prenatal care treatment.

"The nurse [Karenni volunteer medic in the camp] gives me some vitamins like Folic acid, but I was only given enough medicine for two weeks," she said.

Other sources said nearly all the children at the camp are sick with coughs and fevers, but there is nothing to give them. Medical workers said the pandemic had seriously disrupted the supply chain for basic medicines and caused a shortage of medicine for the seasonal flu.

Other clashes

In addition to the clashes in Kayah state, fighting between the military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) occurred in Kachin state's Waingmaw township on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to villagers, who told RFA they are now too afraid to sleep in their homes.

"There was constant firing, with light and heavy artillery from 6:00 p.m. [on Tuesday] to 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.," said Zin Mar Aye, who lives in the area.

"We saw military helicopters flying around. The blasts damaged some homes and killed some livestock. But there were no human causalities."

Many residents have fled to area bomb shelters and farms since fighting began in the township on July 30, he said.

Colonel Naw Bu of the KIA told RFA that the military's No. 58 Infantry Battalion based in Waingmaw was responsible for the shelling and said his troops were not involved.

"We only heard gunfire from the military, but nothing in response," he said. "I think the military troops were being overly defensive and looked like a full-fledged battle."

Colonel Naw Bu said the military also fired artillery at the KIA head office in the Kachin state capital Laiza, with three shells landing in the city and two across the border in China.

Meanwhile, in Karen state, fighting between the military and the armed wing of the Karen Natiional Union (KNU), known as the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), has occurred on a near-daily basis in Hpa-pun township since May 1, according to Saw Kalae Do, Lieutenant Colonel of the KNLA's No. 5 Division.

He said armed engagements took place at least 133 times in KNU-controlled territory last month, killing 65 military troops and injuring 101.

"[The military] is always trying to take over the territory and the KNLA's No. 5 Division is forced to fight back to protect the people and prevent from losing territory," he said.

"Sometimes, there are three or four armed engagements in a single day."

Saw Kalae Do said there were at least 580 armed engagements between the military and KNLA troops from May 1 to July 31, during which 349 military troops were killed, compared to just 10 KNLA deaths.

Naw Wah Khu Shee, the spokesperson of Karen Peace Support Team, told RFA there are around 70,000 IDPs in Karen state, many of whom are taking shelter at camps in KNLA-controlled territories along the Thai and Myanmar borders.

"Many IDPs are too afraid to return home. Some elders have returned temporarily to tend to their livestock and homes," she said.

"The children have remained the jungle. Their lives will be challenging in the rainy season. The road connections have been cut off and they need help—especially food, shelter and security."

According to the United Nations and aid groups, conflict in Myanmar's remote border regions has displaced an estimated 230,000 residents since the junta coup.

They join more than 500,000 refugees from decades of conflict between the military and ethnic armies who were already counted as IDPs at the end of 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Norwegian NGO.

Attempts by RFA to contact Major Gen Zaw Min Tun, the military's Deputy Information Minister, about the reports of armed engagements in Kachin, Kayah and Karen states went unanswered Thursday.

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye K.M. Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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