Myanmar Junta Deploys More Troops for Offensive in Kayah State

By The Irrawaddy 16 March 2023

Fighting is raging again in Kayah (Karenni) State after around 2,000 junta troops launched a large-scale offensive in late February a few weeks after Myanmar military regime declared martial law in Bawlake, Hpruso, Demoso and Shadaw townships.

Junta troops came through Shan State’s Pinlaung, which borders the regime’s seat of power in Naypyitaw to the west. Fighting has flared in Pekon, just southeast of Pinlaung.

Pa-O National Organization (PNO) troops are also fighting alongside regime forces in Pinlaung. Several hundred junta troops are deployed on the border of Pinlaung and Pekon, according to Khu Nye Reh, spokesman of the Karenni military central information committee.

“We estimate that around 2,000 junta soldiers are involved in the offensive. Around 400 are deployed on the Pinlaung-Pekon border, known as the western gate. We don’t know if those troops are intended for operations or security for Naypyitaw,” he said.

Local Karenni resistance forces have been clashing with junta troops arriving through Pinlaung for the past three weeks. The town has been bombarded by indiscriminate military airstrikes and shelling. On March 11, Karenni resistance fighters discovered the bodies of over 20 displaced villagers including three Buddhist monks who had been massacred while sheltering at a monastery in Nan Name village, Pinlaung Township.

The civilian National Unity Government’s Human Rights Ministry said on Thursday that 22 civilians had be killed in the massacre.

The regime sought to pin the blame for the mass slaughter on resistance forces while at the same time inciting racial hatred between local Pa-O and Karenni people.

Meanwhile 28 junta troops were killed during fierce clashes in Kurin village tract, eastern Pekon Township, on March 11 and 12, according to Karenni resistance forces. Allied resistance groups said they also captured six soldiers and seized weapons and ammunition in the clashes, which also killed three resistance fighters and wounded others.

Junta troops from the 66th Light Infantry Division, and No. 2 Military Operations Command based in southern Shan State are attacking the area in three columns, according to the Karenni resistance. The pro-regime Kayan New Land Party militia is also active in the area.

A junta column raided a displacement camp in Kurin village tract on March 12, abducting eight locals and killing three – two elderly persons and a seventh grader, according to the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF).

Junta troops and Karenni resistance forces have also been fighting in neighboring Demoso Township since March 10, when 10 regime soldiers were killed in an ambush, according to the Karenni military central information committee.

The regime carried out three air raids on a village following the ambush. Junta raids have forced around 5,000 locals to flee their homes in the east of Demoso. Clashes also took place near displacement camps, forcing residents to flee again.

Allied Karenni resistance forces are also attacking junta supply routes in neighboring Shadaw Township, where the regime has imposed martial law.

The attacks have cut the supply route from the junta headquarters in Loikaw to its bases in Shadaw and along the Myanmar-Thai border. The regime is instead sending supplies from a local battalion in southern Shan State, using routes through areas controlled by pro-junta militias on the Shan-Kayah border.

The resistance killed eight soldiers during three ambushes on junta troops attempting to deliver supplies to bases in Shadaw on the Myanmar-Thai border between Feb. 26 and March 9, according to the Karenni military central information committee.

Karenni resistance forces are also attacking junta bases in Shadaw and along the border. Both sides have suffered casualties in the fighting.

Khu Nye Reh said the regime is attempting to exert greater control over the areas where it has declared martial law, possibly in preparation for its proposed election. The junta is not even sparing displacement camps in attacks to designed to ensure resistance forces receive no assistance from civilians, he said.

Military airstrikes and shelling have inflicted heavy civilian casualties in Kayah State.

“Neighboring countries and the international community must act now on the junta’s excessive use of air attacks. It is unacceptable that they are targeting displaced civilians,” said a KNDF spokesman.