Armed conflict broke out Wednesday between Myanmar’s military and a joint force of anti-junta fighters in territory controlled by the Karen ethnic group a day after government troops conducted several raids in the area, detaining more than 20 political activists who had taken refuge there, residents said.
According to residents, the military engaged with a combined group of prodemocracy People’s Defense Force (PDF) militiamen and fighters with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) — the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU) political group — firing artillery from a nearby hill at locations in Kayin state’s Lay Kay Kaw New Town’s No. 6 Ward, Rathe Gu village and Lay Kay Kaw Waterfall.
Ye Min, a member of a group monitoring armed conflicts in the area, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the KNLA had warned the military not to encroach on its territory after government troops entered the area at least six times on Tuesday, capturing more than 20 political activists, including a member of Parliament for the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) Party.
However, the military did not comply with the warning and began firing on the three locations at around 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, he said.
“So far, the [military] has set up their artillery on a strategic hill located near Lay Kay Kaw town called Cannon Hill,” he said.
“They started firing today. As I am speaking, they have fired more than 10 heavy artillery rounds.”
A resident who spoke with RFA on condition of anonymity confirmed that the military had conducted six raids in the area on Tuesday, taking the more than 20 activists captive, including Wai Linn Aung, the NLD’s lawmaker for Ayeyarwaddy region’s Myaungmya township.
They said that combined PDF and ethnic armed forces blocked routes in and out of the area in a bid to rescue the detainees, prompting the clash. Six government troops were killing in Wednesday’s fighting, they said, although RFA was unable to independently confirm the claims.
Repeated attempts to reach Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment went unanswered Wednesday.
Padao Saw Tar Nee, a member of the KNU’s Central Committee, said his group had provided shelter to people who fled arrest for humanitarian reasons and that military troops had violated agreed-upon boundaries by encroaching into the KNU’s territory to arrest them.
“They are supposed to comply according to mutual respect, the same way we do. But now they have bluntly violated this respect and detained the people we have sheltered for humanitarian reasons,” he said.
Residents said that two months ago, troops discovered guns on residents of Lay Kay Kaw township and used the discovery to justify raids of the area on Tuesday to arrest them.
They said “many residents” of Lay Kay Kaw township have fled their homes due to the fighting, although the exact number was not immediately clear.
Ye Min from the conflict monitoring group told RFA “at least 50 people” may have been arrested in total as the raids and arrests continued Wednesday.
Political analyst Than Soe Naing said political activists seeking refuge should relocate to safer places than Lay Kay Kaw because the region is within the reach of military operations, even though it is located inside KNU-controlled territory.
“The military has suspected that the opposition forces have taken shelter in that region. Now they are conducting raids,” he said.
“I think, for the long term, this area cannot be considered safe. So, they must make a hard choice. I think those from opposition forces who are resisting the military rule should not take shelter in an unsafe area like that.”
Lay Kay Kaw is located near Myawaddy by the Thai-Myanmar border and was established in 2015 under an agreement between KNU chairman Saw Mutu Saw Phoe and then-President Thein Sein’s government’s Kayin state prime minister.
An analyst who studied ethnic affairs in Myanmar who declined to be named told RFA that the military is likely to take control of Lay Kay Kaw township to pressure the KNU and fighting in the area may intensify.
The junta has arrested more than 8,000 civilians and killed 1,343 since its Feb. 1 coup, mostly during non-violent protests of the coup, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Authorities are targeting parliamentarians from the NLD for arrest, detaining nearly 90 over the past 10 months. Some of those who have not been arrested are on the run or have relocated to areas under the control of ethnic armies that are fighting the junta, sources have told RFA.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine and Khet Mar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
Source: Radio Free Asia