Myanmar’s junta sends hundreds of troops to Kayah State, preparing major offensive

Myanmar’s junta has sent more than 400 soldiers to Demoso township in Kayah (Karenni) State this month, with opposition Progressive Karenni People’s Force (PKPF) and civil society officials saying they expect a major offensive in the near future.

More than 200 reinforcements were sent from Moe Bye and a similar number from Pekon township, both on the border of Shan State, since the beginning of August.

On Thursday military convoys, including tanks, entered Shadaw township according to Ko Kayan, the information officer of the Demoso’s People’s Defense Force (PDF).

Up to 200 troops have been deployed near Ngwe Taung Dam in Demoso township, abandoned by most of its residents due to fierce fighting between junta troops and PDFs in past battles.

Hundreds of troops are also reinforcing the junta’s main camps in the western part of Demoso city.

Kayan said tanks and drones, in addition to stationary troops, have been sent to an area where armed resistance is fierce.

“There are more military activities in many places than before,” he said. “There are three or four tanks on standby in the docks and drones in Hpruso township.”

The Military Council’s Army 531 force and the 12th Grade High Training School have been fighting PDFs in Hpruso. Battalions under the junta’s 66th Division have also stepped up operations in the region, according to local Karenni Defense Force officials.

Karenni Human Rights Group (KnHRG) director Ko Banyar said junta forces may be trying to control the main townships of Karenni State, where armed resistance is strong, in the run up to next year’s national elections.

“Every year, in the rainy season, they don’t reinforce and halt their offensives,” he said.

“Now the situation is that they want to reinforce troops and expand the territory [they control], which could be related to the upcoming elections in 2023 … If they can control the territory they can hold the election, then hand over the power to the winning party to gain political legitimacy. So Military Council forces are carrying out operations to control the hubs like Loikaw city in Kayah State and Demoso township.”

He added that there are thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who have fled the city to forests on the east and west sides of Demoso. If fighting breaks out the IDPs may also suffer casualties and Banyar said he is concerned about the shortage of food and medicine.

The Military Council spokesperson in Kayah State refused to comment when contacted by RFA, saying he was too busy.

There have been 420 battles across Kayah State since the military coup on Feb. 1,2021 to Aug 15, 2022 according to the PKPF. It said149 members of PDFs and 1,306 junta soldiers were killed during that time.

According to state Civil Society organizations, nearly 300 local civilians have been killed in Kayah State in the 18 months since the coup and 200,000 have been forced to flee to safer places.