Thousands Displaced as Myanmar Junta Forces Clash With Karenni Resistance

By Hein Htoo Zan 9 March 2023

Myanmar regime forces are continuing to clash with a combined force of Karenni Army (KA) and Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) fighters in southern Shan State, with over 5,000 local residents displaced by the fighting.

Clashes broke out again on March 9 near Saung Pyaung Village in Shan’s Pinlaung Township, where junta troops and Karenni resistance fighters clashed for the first time in the township on February 24.

The KA and KNDF launched an attack on a junta outpost in Saung Pyaung on February 24, where military regime soldiers and pro-junta Pa-O National Army (PNA) fighters are based. Pinlaung Township is part of the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone governed by the Pa-O National Organization (PNO), the political wing of the PNA.

More than 5,000 residents from Saung Pyaung and nearby villages have been displaced by the fighting, according to locals and aid groups.

“Clashes broke out again at around 6am near Saung Pyaung, which is located on the border of Pinlaung and Pekon townships. The Karenni groups have captured some villages and so the Myanmar military is now shelling them,” said the administrator of a village near Saung Pyaung, who is currently sheltering at a monastery in Pinlaung Town along with hundreds of other refugees.

Thousands more people from Saung Pyaung, Lone Pyin, Taung Mae Thin, Myauk Sa Lone, Taung Sa Lone, Nam Name and Pin Lon villages are also sheltering in Pinlaung Town, as well as in Pekon Township.

Almost two weeks after being forced to flee, the refugees are in urgent need of supplies.

“We still need food and medicine,” said one displaced female resident of Taung Sa Lone Village whose sister was killed by a regime mortar strike on February 24.

Her family has fled to Pekon Township, where they are receiving help from the Moebye Rescue Team. The team said that some of the refugees from Pinlaung are injured or sick and in need of proper medical treatment and care.

At least three civilians have been killed by regime artillery strikes since the clashes broke out, and another four people injured.

Despite the ongoing fighting, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing visited his ally the PNO leader U Aung Kham Hti on March 7 at his home in Kyauk Ta Lone Gyi Town in the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone, according to regime-controlled media. It is not known what the two men discussed.

PNO leader U Aung Kham Hti (left) meets junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on March 7 at his home in Kyauk Ta Lone Gyi Town in the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone in southern Shan State.

However, local observers said that they believed that the regime boss would have been pushing U Aung Kham Hti  to help defend the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone. The area is strategically important, as resistance groups from Kayah and Karen states could break through it to reach the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw.

On the day of Min Aung Hlaing’s visit, the PNA released a statement calling on young ethnic Pa-O people to join the PNA to fight the “invaders”.

PNA fighters are currently taxing some villages in their area, with residents saying that each household in the affected villages is having to pay 75,000 kyats each.

The Irrawaddy was unable to contact the PNA for comment.