Pinlebu, a town in Sagaing Region, has been largely deserted amid street fighting and junta air raids.
Clashes broke out in Pinlebu on Jan. 18 and residents fled into forests and other towns, including Katha, Kawlin and Wuntho and further afield to Shwebo and Mandalay.
“The town is almost deserted because people fear the military. About a fifth of the town’s population remains,” said a Pinlebu resident.
Pinlebu Township has two urban wards and 52 village-tracts with 266 villages and a population of 130,000. An estimated 20,000 residents have fled the town since fighting started, according to a charity worker.
Clashes in the town continued until Jan. 23. In four hours of fighting on Jan. 18, at least 20 junta soldiers and two resistance fighters died, according to Pinlebu Revolution, a resistance group fighting the regime.
Resistance groups are fighting alongside the Kachin Independence Army and All Burma Students Democratic Front in Pinlebu which has been subjected to aerial strikes since last year.
A Pinlebu resident still in the town said on Tuesday: “It is tense. We have to take caution as aircraft often attack. Soldiers are looting houses in the town and residents can only watch as nobody dares to challenge them.”
Junta soldiers have reportedly arrested civilians in the town and have been deployed in the tallest buildings.
A member of the Pinlebu PDF said resistance groups have surrounded the town so helicopters have tried to clear a route for the trapped troops. The Irrawaddy was unable to independently confirm his statement.
Since late September last year, the junta has cut off phone and internet access in Pinlebu, Wuntho and Kawlin after it suffered heavy casualties in clashes with resistance groups. Military-operated Mytel remained available until late December, according to residents.
The military regime has carried out airstrikes and mass killings on Ye-U, Khin-U, Taze, Tabayin, Ayadaw, Shwebo, Kawlin, Wuntho, Kani, Mingin, Pale, Yinmabin, Salingyi and Kale townships across Sagaing.
A charity worker helping displaced people said: “Sagaing Region needs greater attention. At least 10 townships in Sagaing suffer from daily airstrikes. As junta ground troops suffer heavy losses in Sagaing, the regime is increasingly conducting airstrikes.
“More than 100,000 people have been displaced in Sagaing where most of the resistance groups have rudimentary hunting rifles to fight aircraft. Sagaing Region accounts for half of the displaced population in Myanmar. And displaced people need emergency relief aid like rice, oil, salt and tarpaulins,” he added.
Junta troops, after suffering heavy losses in mine attacks by resistance groups, have reportedly used civilians as human shields, looted villages, torched houses and randomly killed civilians.
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