Civilians Arrested as Myanmar Military Cracks Down in Kayah State
By The Irrawaddy 14 September 2021
Almost 30 civilians in Kayah State have been detained recently by the Myanmar military on suspicion of anti-regime activities, the Karenni Human Rights Group (KHRG) told The Irrawaddy.
26 people were arrested between August 27 and September 12 in Demoso and Loikaw townships. Military tensions are running high between junta troops and Karenni resistance forces in those areas, according to the KHRG, an independent civil society organization that monitors the human rights situation in Kayah State for the United Nations and international human rights agencies.
On September 9, four timber truck drivers were detained in Demoso. Prior to that, 12 farmers were arrested in Tee Lon village in Loikaw, according to Ko Banyar of the KHRG. Another five men were detained in Loikaw after junta forces found anti-regime photos on their phones.
A photo widely circulated on social media recently shows two teenage boys making a three-finger salute – a sign of opposition to military rule – with their hands tied and the rope being held by a man in Myanmar military uniform who was sitting beside them.
Reports said that the photo was taken before the teenagers were shot dead by junta troops. However, the two were later identified as 14 and 15 year-olds from Demoso who were subsequently sent to a junta interrogation center, said Demoso residents.
In August, regime troops detained seven men, including a 15-year-old, in Demoso, and eight villagers including a woman in Hpruso. Four men, including the 15-year-old, were released in the first week of September. The others are believed to still be under detention.
The KHRG reported that junta troops had tortured detained civilians and also used them as human shields when travelling in conflict zones.
Military regime spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun denied arresting civilians in Kayah State.
“We haven’t arrested anyone who is not a member of a People’s Defense Force (PDF). We have only arrested those who were involved in clashes. We don’t arrest people if we have no evidence. All those who were detained were caught along with weapons and ammunition. There might have been interrogations [of civilians]. But it is done for security,” said the regime spokesman.
Kayah State is largely stable except in certain villages that are rebelling, added Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun.
Karenni resistance forces from the Karenni Army, the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force and local PDF’s have been fighting regime troops in Demoso and Loikaw since late May. Clashes intensified after the parallel National Unity Government declared a nationwide war against the junta on September 7.
Fighting broke out on the evening of September 7 between local resistance forces and junta soldiers stationed in Daw Poe Si village at the border of Demoso and Loikaw townships. Six houses in 5th Mile and 6th Mile villages burned down after junta forces fired artillery following the clash, forcing residents to flee their homes.
Clashes have ceased since September 12, but locals are not yet returning to their homes as military tensions remain high in the area. Junta troops have been making surprise checks on travellers in Loikaw and Demoso, as well as detaining and beating suspects, said a displaced woman from Ngwe Taung Village.
“Men are checked more especially. Previously, they only asked you where you are going and what you are going to do. But now they are asking your name, your ID number, phone number, and they note down your motorbike or car number plate. They even check the gallery and contacts on your phone. You can get arrested if they find a photo that they think is suspicious. So many people are not returning to their villages. The checks and inspections are quite tight,” she said.
Kayah State has a population of over 280,000 people, according to 2019 statistics, and half of them have been displaced by the recent fighting in the state, the Karenni State Consultative Council told The Irrawaddy.