Anti-junta forces retreat after holding strategic river village for several days

Resistance forces in northern Sagaing Region’s Homalin Township withdrew on Saturday from a strategically important village that they captured and held for several days last week, according to sources.

Shwe Pyi Aye Myothit, located on the eastern bank of the Chindwin River some 30km southwest of the town of Homalin, fell to an alliance of anti-junta groups on February 1. It remained under their control for the next three days, despite multiple counterattacks from the military and its militia allies.

Their efforts to hold the village ended, however, when the groups involved decided to withdraw rather than face more intense bombardment.

“They have strategically retreated for now. [Junta troops] have re-occupied the village and are now carrying out clearance operations,” a source close to the Hkamti District People’s Defence Force (PDF), one of the groups that seized Shwe Pyi Aye Myothit, told Myanmar Now on Monday.

At least three people have been executed since around 200 regime soldiers arrived to retake control of the village, the source added.

“The troops shot three innocent people in the head—one today and two who were killed yesterday,” he said.

A blood stain and the jacket of soldier are seen at a military outpost after it was overrun by resistance forces on February 1 (Supplied)

According to a statement released by the Defence Ministry of the publicly mandated National Unity Government (NUG), the resistance forces also shot down a junta helicopter a day before their retreat.

Although Myanmar Now was able to confirm reports of a helicopter crash in the area at around 3:45pm on February 4, further details of the incident were not available at the time of reporting.

In addition to Battalion 1 of the Hkamti District PDF, which is under the direct command of the NUG, three local defence teams—Homalin PDF (HPDF), HPDF 124, and HPDF Moe Kyo—were involved in the capture of Shwe Pyi Aye Myothit.

Map of Shwe Pyi Aye in Sagaing Region

A source connected to the NUG said the anti-junta fighters had chosen to advance on the village because of its strategic importance.

The military’s Infantry Battalion 222, Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 369, and LIB 370 are based in Homalin to the northeast, while LIB 367 and LIB 368 have bases in Paungbyin, located on the Chindwin River some 40km to the south.

According to Naing Htoo Aung, the permanent secretary of the NUG’s Ministry of Defence, more than 200 junta troops and around 100 resistance fighters took part in last week’s clashes. Both sides suffered multiple casualties, he added. 

Maung Tuu, a member of HPDF 124 who took part in the fighting, said the resistance forces raided junta checkpoints in Shwe Pyi Aye Myothit in the early morning hours of February 1—the second anniversary of the coup—and clashes continued through the day.

“We initiated the attack at around 6am and managed to take over 90 percent of the village. We had to fall back a bit, as they launched airstrikes right when we were about to overrun their last remaining base,” he said.

An aerial view of the only military outpost that resistance forces were unable to seize during their offensive on Shwe Pyi Aye Myothit (Supplied)

There are five junta outposts in Shwe Pyi Aye Myothit, and the PDF allied forces managed to destroy all of them except for a police outpost on a hill near the Chindwin River, according to Maung Tuu.

He added that some 60 armed personnel without uniforms, including Shanni Nationalities Army (SNA) fighters, were deployed at that base. 

The SNA, founded in 1989 and chiefly operating near the border between Sagaing Region and Kachin State, is an ethnic armed organisation that has reportedly cooperated with the military since the February 2021 coup. Some villages along the Chindwin River are also controlled by the SNA, according to locals.

Myanmar Now tried to contact SNA officials regarding the claims about their cooperation with the military, but did not receive a response.

At a defence and security council conference last week, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing admitted that the military controls just 60% of Myanmar’s 330 townships. 

Myanmar’s military council, which declared a nationwide state of emergency to justify its seizure of power on February 1, 2021, extended its rule by six months last week. It also declared martial law the following day in 37 townships, including 11 in Sagaing Region.

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