Fighting Seen Intensifying in Myanmar as Junta Deploys Troops to Ethnic Controlled Territories

Fighting between Myanmar’s military and ethnic armed groups has ticked up in August and will intensify in coming days as the junta sends reinforcements to rebel-held territories in the embattled states of Kayah, Kayin, and Kachin, ethnic leaders said Wednesday.

The military seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, claiming that a landslide victory by the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the country’s November 2020 general election was the result of voter fraud.

It has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently repressed widespread protests, killing 1,016 people and arresting 5,937 since the coup, 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 People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias and some of the dozens of ethnic armies that control large swathes of territory along Myanmar’s periphery.

The mobilization in border regions of the multi-ethnic country come days after the anti-junta National Unity Government (NUG) said it would set a date for a “D-Day” operation to oust the military regime in a popular uprising supported by a network of PDF militia groups and other allies.

On Tuesday, a half-hour long clash between government troops and a combined force of Karenni National Defense Force (KNDF) and Karenni Army (KA) soldiers in Kayah state’s Loikaw township left seven troops dead and 10 injured, while only one KNDF soldier was wounded, KNDF spokesman Khun Thomas told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Fighting is likely to continue in the coming days as more military units advance on villages east of Loikaw, the spokesman added.

“Wherever they plan to start an offensive, there will be fighting and people in nearby villages will have to flee to safety,” he said. “This is what we can say now but we cannot predict how many people will have to flee.”

There have been around 20 clashes between the military and Karenni coalition forces this month, Khun Thomas said, adding that six KNDF members have been wounded and none killed. The exact number of military casualties is unclear, he said.

Residents of Loikaw told RFA that some 2,000 civilians from about 20 villages were displaced by Tuesday’s clash.

Meanwhile, in Kayin state, tensions has risen between the military and various divisions of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the military wing of the Karen National Union (KNU).

The KNLA’s 6th Brigade has been fighting with the military almost daily in Kawkareik township since Aug. 22.

Dooplaya District Secretary Pado Saw Liston said at least five Myanmar soldiers were killed and two others wounded in clashes with the KNLA’s 6th Brigade and two others were injured.

“The likelihood of more fighting depends on [the military],” he said.

“We did not go out looking for them to start a fight. Fighting will continue if they enter our territory. I don’t know what orders they have from their superiors. If they had been instructed to enter restricted areas, then there surely will be fighting.”

As a result of the clashes, more 1,000 civilians from eight villages between Kawkareik and Kyaikdon townships have fled to safety, KNLA 6th Brigade Doopla District officials said.

Kachin clashes

Similarly, in Kachin state’s Tanai township, daily clashes between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the military occurred between Aug. 21 and 24 near Nan Kham and Don Khun villages as the military advanced into KIA territory.

KIA front-line sources said the military suffered “some casualties” during recent clashes.

The KIA on Wednesday urged all parties to “avoid war” and find a solution to the current political crisis through dialogue.

Colonel Naw Bu, the KIA information officer, told RFA on Tuesday that fighting is likely to intensify soon due to the increased activities of the military in Kachin state.

“The junta is slowly moving forward with their ordnance and supplies so after the monsoon season and the onset of winter, we might see more military operations,” he said.

“Given the current situation, I think they are going to do something.”

On Wednesday, Naw Bu told the Irrawaddy online newspaper that the KIA wants to sit down with all parties, including the junta and the shadow National Unity Government. But he added that the ethnic army will not back down if the military attacks.

Since Feb. 1, the KIA has clashed some 400 times with junta troops in Myitkyina, Shwegu and Hpakant, townships, KIA officials said.

In Hpakant, the junta has shut down access to the internet since Aug. 20 and tightened security in the city, prompting a public outcry and rumors of an impending military offensive.

Kaing Yin, a resident of Hpakant, said that since the internet outage, troops have been moving in large numbers in the city and people have begun to flee in anticipation of fighting, citing similar tactics by the military in other offensives.

Attempts to contact the office of the junta’s Ministry of Transport and Communications to learn the cause of the internet outage went unanswered Wednesday.

New fighting expected

Dr. Hla Kyaw Zaw, a China-based political analyst, said fighting will intensify in the near future as the rainy season draws to a close.

“Once the rains are over, there will be more fighting,” he said. “The junta will launch an offensive at this time of the year and the local people will have to pay the price. They will not win but the next one or two years will be difficult for the people.”

Political and military observers said fighting is likely to escalate as the junta deploys more troops to ethnic areas from urban centers where they were stationed to curtail anti-coup protests.

RFA’s calls to junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Wednesday.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement on Aug. 17 that there are 205,260 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar, most of whom are in Kayin, Kayah, Shan and Chin states. The number does not include the recent list of around 3,000 new refugees in Kayah and Kayin 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. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.