Burma

Myanmar Regime’s Deputy Chief Makes Trip to War-Torn Kayah State

By The Irrawaddy 4 February 2022

The regime in Naypyitaw has sent its second-highest-ranking official to wartorn Kayah State in an apparent effort to quell the growing armed resistance against it in southeast Myanmar.

Vice Senior General Soe Win, deputy military chief and vice chairman of the military regime’s governing body, the State Administration Council (SAC), and senior officials including Home Affairs Minister General Soe Htut landed in the state capital Loikaw amid heavy security on Thursday.

Kayah State is one of the armed anti-regime resistance movement’s strongholds along with Chin State in the west and the upcountry regions of Sagaing and Magwe.

Serious fighting between regime forces and locally formed anti-regime resistance groups—known as People’s Defence Forces (PDFs)—allied with the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), an ethnic armed group, has been raging in Kayah since late last year.

The anti-regime groups have inflicted serious casualties on the junta’s forces. In January, they advanced to the state capital Loikaw to attack the regime’s military bases there. The fighting prompted at least thousands of civilians to flee to neighboring Shan State as the junta called in airstrikes. The United Nations estimates that in Kayah State alone there are 90,000 displaced people.

Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win was first seen in the state’s Bawlakhe, Pruhso and Pasawng townships on Wednesday, meeting military officers and their families there. The next day he met with officials in Loikaw. Jet fighters constantly flew over the town as helicopters carrying senior officers landed there. He also met military personnel and their families in Loikaw and Pekhon on the day.

 

Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win gives a speech to regime military officers and rank-and-file troops, including women soldiers, in Kayah State’s Bawlakhe Township on Wednesday. / Myawady

Normally, such meetings are only attended by officers but the meetings in Kayah were joined by rank-and-file troops, including women soldiers, armed and in combat uniforms, showing the seriousness of the situation there. They placed their weapons on their laps as Soe Win gave a speech urging them to “build strong unity within the army; live and move with military caution and make all efforts to fulfill the regional security responsibilities.”

The capital is almost deserted as intense fighting between the junta troops and resistance fighters ravaged the capital in recent weeks, with the military calling in air and artillery strikes to support its ground troops.

Karenni forces and PDFs claim they have 90 per cent control over Kayah State.

The regime suffered heavy casualties and in retaliation the regime sent in jet fighters and helicopters to bomb villages, towns and churches.

Over Christmas, the bodies of at least 35 people—including two Save the Children NGO workers—were found burned in Kayah state. While local residents and PDFs insisted that junta soldiers committed the killings, the regime has denied it.

It is estimated that over 7,000 PDF fighters are spread through Kayah State. In the past they were equipped with only homemade weapons and Tumee rifles, but more recently they have acquired automatic weapons and RPGs to counter the junta troops. Karenni PDF forces said they now have several M4 carbines and rocket launchers.

After suffering casualties and losing control in major cities in Kayah State the regime reportedly called back the mid-level army officer who oversaw the military operation in Kayah State for failing to pacify the insurrection. The brigadier general in his early 50s posted in Kayah State is now believed to be in army detention in Naypyitaw.

With the arrival of tough commander Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win, the regime is preparing to launch a major offensive and consolidate its troops, including police personnel.

In Loikaw, Home Affairs Minister General Soe Htut was seen wearing a bulletproof vest while inspecting prisons in Loikaw. PDF forces recently attacked the prison with rocket launchers.

In his speech to police officers there, he revealed that the junta has been struggling to defend Kayah State by all means at its disposal, even giving military training to family members of police officers.

“The basic military courses are being conducted for family members and female police for self-defense and they should practice continuously,” he said, according to state-run media.

He also warned officials that they should “monitor continuously to ensure that security does not weaken, and be in defensive mode in case of possible attacks.”


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