Thousands Flee Clashes Between Myanmar Junta and Karenni Resistance

By The Irrawaddy 1 October 2021

Thousands of civilians have fled their homes in Kayah State following fierce clashes between Karenni resistance groups and junta troops at the village of Konethar near the state capital, Loikaw.

Fighting broke out on Wednesday after Karenni resistance groups attempted to stop a junta convoy from Shan State near Konethar on the Shan-Kayah state border. The military convoy reportedly consisted of at least 300 troops and about 40 trucks.

The large village of Konethar has around 4,000 to 5,000 residents, according to villagers who fled their homes this week.

A female villager, who asked for anonymity, said junta troops fired artillery on the village on Wednesday and she saw at least 10 houses hit by shells before she fled her home.

“We thought we would die as we were trapped in our homes. We felt helpless as many artillery shells landed on our village. We packed our belongings overnight and fled this morning when they stopped firing,” she said on Thursday.

Some elderly residents and nuns who care for them remain trapped, villagers said.

Villagers fled their homes for surrounding forests in May due to fighting.

The combined forces of Karenni Army (KA), Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF), Loikaw People’s Defense Force (PDF), Demoso PDF and Pekon PDF are fighting regime troops near Konethar.

Resistance fighters in Pekon and Moe Bye ambushed the military convoy heading to Kayah State when it entered Pekon from Pinlaung Township in Shan State on Monday.

A civilian resistance fighter in Kayah State. / Loikaw PDF

Karenni resistance groups reported five casualties in the fighting near Konethar.

A KNDF spokesman told The Irrawaddy on Thursday: “We have held them at Konethar village. They have shelled indiscriminately and deployed in civilian houses and torched homes in the village. Five houses were burned last night and they torched five more this morning.”

Junta troops have reportedly driven away villagers that stayed in their homes and residents from nearby Kayan Tharyar village have also fled the fighting.

In May in Kayan Tharyar villagers left their homes after four civilians hiding in the village church were killed by junta shelling.

Military tensions are running high along the Shan-Kayah border. The regime has deployed hundreds of extra soldiers into Kayah State. It has extended a unilateral ceasefire until February next year unless there are threats to the military-run administration and security operations.

The parallel National Unity Government declared war against the military regime in September and asked resistance groups to attack junta troops and their assets.

The KA was in peace talks with Myanmar’s military over signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement before the February coup.

The Karenni PDFs say they are under the NUG’s command. Karenni resistance groups began launching attacks on the junta on May 20.

Kayah State has a population of 280,000, according to the 2019 census. The Karenni State Consultative Council said about half the population has been displaced by fighting since May.

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