Tens of Thousands Flee Homes in Magwe Region as Junta Troops Pillage
2021-09-01 -- Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes in Pauk township in Myanmar's Magwe region over the past week after troops loyal to the military regime set up camp and began raiding local villages in search of anti-junta militia members, residents said Wednesday.
The nearly 50,000 people from dozens of villages in the township left the area over several days beginning on Aug. 27, when government soldiers arrived in Kinma and Wun Chone villages. For the last seven days, soldiers have been interrogating villagers about a local branch of the People's Defense Forces (PDF) militia and destroying supplies they say could be used to support the fighters, a resident told RFA's Myanmar Service, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal.
"Residents of at least 30 villages have fled their homes as they heard the military will launch an operation," the resident said.
"I think approximately 50,000 people have fled. Most of them are from large villages, except some from one or two small villages."
Another resident said government troops had bivouacked at a monastery in Kin Ma village and were terrorizing inhabitants.
"Today they burned 36 bags of rice and the tarps we kept for distributing to IDPs," the resident said, using an acronym for internally displaced persons.
"We learnt that they burnt them on the grounds between the monastery and a mess hall."
The rice and tarps had been donated by local charities in Kinma village, the resident said.
Some of the villagers who fled have returned to their homes, but most are too afraid to come back, he added.
Myanmar's military overthrew the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government on Feb. 1, claiming the party had stolen the country's November 2020 ballot through voter fraud. The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently repressed anti-coup protests, killing at least 1,041 people and arresting 6,107 others, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
Amid nationwide turmoil, the military has stepped up offensives in remote parts of the country, triggering fierce battles with local PDF militias and some of the dozens of ethnic armies that control large swathes of territory along Myanmar's periphery.
Pauk township has been the scene of frequent fighting between the PDF and junta troops, with villages regularly caught in the crossfire of artillery blasts and mine explosions.
On June 16, nearly all the homes in Kinma village were torched to the ground during clashes, with both sides blaming the other for the incident.
As recently as Monday, seven government troops were killed and an unconfirmed number of others injured by a PDF mine attack near Wun Chone village, residents said.
Loikaw township IDPs
Fighting in Kayah state's Loikaw township has also forced residents to flee their homes in recent weeks, with sources in the region saying that clashes between the military and a joint battalion of Karenni National Defense Force (KNDF) and Karenni Army fighters in Loilem Lay village on Aug. 31 prompted nearly 8,000 people to seek refuge in temporary camps.
The fighting, which lasted for more than an hour, caused casualties on both sides and came a day after junta troops fired mortars into Loikaw's Daltahay village, while also raiding Loilem Lay and Tee Lom villages, according to the KDNF's spokesperson.
An IDP, who declined to be named for security reasons, said that he and others placed as much food as they could on motorbikes and fled.
"There are at least 8,000 people from Htee Sel Khar village tract," he said.
Volunteers said there were at least 170,000 IDPs from the Kayah state townships of Demoso, Loikaw, Fruso and Bawlakhe since May 20.
Attempts by RFA to contact junta deputy information minister Major Gen Zaw Min Tun for confirmation of the fighting in Magwe region and Kayah state went unanswered Wednesday.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced on Aug. 27 that the number of people who need humanitarian aid in Myanmar increased to around two million since the military coup on Feb. 1.
OCHA said earlier last month that there are 205,260 IDPs in Myanmar, most of whom are in Kayin, Kayah, Shan and Chin states.
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.
Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
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