Military snipers in Myanmar’s eastern Kayah state shot and killed three people and wounded another Wednesday as the junta attacked the state’s recently formed militia and retook police strongholds in Loikaw district in the state’s northwest.
Nearly four months after the military ousted the country’s democratically elected government on Feb. 1 and began a brutal crackdown on mass protests that has killed more than 800 civilians, the angry residents in Kayah state organized into the Karenni People’s Defense Force (KPDF).
Fighting between the KPDF and the junta’s security forces began on May 22, in Demawso township, when the KPDF killed three police officers and occupied security posts in the region. Aid groups estimate that some 40,000 people have been displaced by the violence over the past five days.
RFA reported that the KPDF took control of Demawso’s police station and successfully defended it Tuesday after a firefight that ended with a government tank destroyed and five junta soldiers killed.
Since then, the majority of Demawso’s residents have fled to other areas and the junta has increased its troop presence by about 1,000, according to a report by local outlet Myanmar Now.
On Wednesday, military snipers fired at anyone daring to walk along the town’s streets, sources in Demawso told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“They were shooting at everyone they saw near the Irrigation Department and along Ngwe Taung Reservoir Roand and Demawso Junction. This morning, four people set out on motorcycles to flee to the west. Three were killed by sniper fire and one was injured,” a resident who requested anonymity for security reasons told RFA.
Demawso is under strict military lockdown, with soldiers blocking roads and telephone lines cut in some areas.
Meanwhile, the KPDF attacked a police post in Loilem township on the border between Shan and Kayah states Wednesday morning, but were unable to overrun the encampment.
“It started around four in the morning and ended around five o’clock. There were no casualties,” a KPDF member who declined to be named told RFA.
“We were unable to seize the post. We had to retreat as they were using heavy weaponry against us and we didn’t have enough manpower,” the KPDF member said.
The encampment is located on a major road between Shan and Kayah States, and the KPDF was trying to disrupt the supplies and reinforcements from entering Kayah, according to the KPDF member.
Soldiers told RFA that the junta’s Home Minister Lt. Gen. Soe Htut is visiting the area, which includes Shan state’s Moebye and Kayah’s Demawso, and is expected to inspect police stations, which have been targets of the KPDF in recent days.
“The police posts in Moebye, Demawso, and Loikaw townships have been under attack. Several police were killed in the raids in Moebye and Demawso,” a KPDF member told RFA.
“I think he came to see the situation for himself. We attack where we think we can win. There aren’t only police at the stations, but soldiers as well. Our men are not very experienced, so we are focusing on the weakest areas,” he said.
State media reported Tuesday that the home minister met with the families of policemen and soldiers of the battalion stationed in Moebye, handing out cash rewards sent by coup leader Min Aung Hlaing.
The report also said he visited a military encampment and a police station in Hpekon but did not mention casualties or fighting in the areas he visited.
Around 40,000 people or 80 percent of the population in western Loikaw have fled the area as fighting has intensified, an aid worker told RFA. They are taking shelter in religious halls and schools near the Kayah-Shan border. The two states border northeastern Thailand.
“The remaining 20 percent are just men guarding their own villages. At the moment we have stockpiles of food, and we are feeding refugees with that, but what we really need right now is medicine, mosquito nets and tarpaulins,” the aid worker said.
Other aid workers said that they could run out of food in a week if the fighting continues and numbers of refugees swell. A refugee camp in Pekin Kawku village, 10 miles from Demawso, received 800 people on Tuesday alone.
RFA attempted to contact the junta’s Deputy Information Minister Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment, but calls went unanswered.
In Chin state on the western side of Myanmar near the border with India, tens of thousands of refugees are also hunkered down in hot jungle terrain after intense fighting in mid-May in which the local Chinland Defense Force militia killed some 100 regime troops before receding to the forests to avoid a junta onslaught.
“One week after the occupation by junta troops, the residents of Mindat are living without electricity, food or water supplies as soldiers have deliberately cut off essential services and restrict movement in and out of the town,” said the Chin Human Rights Organization in a Facebook post. Mindat, at the center of fighting, was occupied by the army last week.
“Concern is growing about the health and well-being of the mostly elderly and child and female populations who have been left unable to flee the town, as the junta soldiers seem intent on starving them to death as a punishment for one of the most formidable civil resistance movements in the country,” the group said.
The Thailand-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said that as of Wednesday, at least 827 people have been killed by the junta, and 4313 are in detention.
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