Fighting broke out between Myanmar junta troops and the Karen National Union (KNU)’s armed wing in Lay Kay Kaw town in Karen State’s Myawaddy on Wednesday morning, following junta raids in the town a day earlier in which dozens of democracy activists were arrested.
The fighting started after 11 a.m. in the area’s Quarter 6, between troops from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and junta forces. It then escalated and the junta used artillery to fire upon civilian residences.
Military tensions rose recently when some 200 junta soldiers raided the area, alleging that democracy activists and members of People’s Defense Force (PDF) civilian resistance groups were hiding there. The raids and clashes followed the junta’s accusation that the KNU, Myanmar’s oldest revolutionary force, was supporting and sheltering striking civil servants and anti-regime armed resistance groups.
Dr. Bio, vice chairman of the Yangon chapter of the National League for Democracy (NLD), who is taking shelter in the city, told The Irrawaddy in the afternoon that the sound of heavy weapons firing into Lay Kaw Kaw could be heard continuously for more than one and a half hours.
Hundreds of local residents fled their homes as artillery shells were fired into Quarter 6 of Lay Kay Kaw from a nearby hill to the north of the city, he said.
In late November, the junta accused the KNLA’s brigades 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 of organizing military training for civilian resistance forces, sheltering those evading arrest by the regime and supplying arms to groups engaged in urban guerrilla warfare in a number of cities and towns in the country.
Wednesday’s clashes are believed to be between the junta and a combined force from the KNLA, PDFs and a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).
The new city hosts several armed groups: the KNLA, which is the armed wing of the KNU; the DKBA splinter group; and the PDF representing the civilian National Unity Government (NUG)’s southern division.
Two other ethnic Karen armed groups—the Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council and the Border Guard Force—have cozy relationships with the military, and junta troops are active in the area.
The clashes broke out as KNU vice-chairman Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win was in Lay Kay Kaw, reportedly to negotiate with the junta troops about Tuesday’s raid.
Pado Man Man, a spokesman for the KNLA’s Brigade 5, said the KNLA troops responded to the regime troops’ actions because it is the group’s “duty to defend ourselves against the brutal and inhumane junta.”
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