Battles between Karen, junta forces rage near Thai border 

Clashes between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the military have escalated in Karen State’s Myawaddy Township following the KNLA seizure of a junta base last week. 

Karen forces confiscated weapons, ammunition and other supplies when they overran the Maw Khee base on March 21. Satellite imagery of the area places the base around 4km from the Thai border in Dooplaya District, territory of the KNLA’s Brigade 6. 

Padoh Saw Taw Nee, spokesperson for the Karen National Union (KNU)—the political wing of the KNLA—speculated that the Myanmar army would try to reclaim the post. He said on Saturday that the junta had sent hundreds of troops down the 70km stretch of road that runs parallel to the Thai border and connects Myawaddy with Wawlay town to the south; Maw Khee lies just outside the town. 

Map showing the location of the Maw Khee base on the Myanmar-Thai border 

Following an initial battle on Friday near Hpa Luu Lay village, which lies on the road in question, Padoh Saw Taw Nee said the military suffered major casualties on Sunday afternoon when they attacked the KNLA in the village of Bla Doh, just a few miles from Maw Khee.

“Our battalion commanders said that at least 40 junta soldiers were killed,” he told Myanmar Now on Monday, adding that the military responded with an airstrike on the area. 

Junta forces were only able to collect the bodies later that night, he added. 

A guerrilla force called Cobra Column, which has been fighting alongside the KNLA, said in a statement that more than 60 Myanmar army soldiers from Light Infantry Divisions (LIDs) 44 and 22 were killed that day. 

“The bodies were scattered all over the road. They retrieved some of them during the night and when a helicopter fired on the area in the afternoon on March 27,” an information officer from Cobra Column said.

Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify the number of casualties in the fighting. 

The KNU reported that its armed forces initially killed one soldier and captured one alive of the 28 junta troops stationed at Maw Khee from Infantry Battalion 32 and Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 555. The 26 others retreated, according to the KNU. 

On March 22, the KNLA reportedly captured LIB 555’s commander—whose rank could not be verified—as well as a corporal. 

Among the arms seized by the KNLA were a 60mm mortar launcher, four light weapons, more than 100 RPG rounds, and several boxes of ammunition.  

Although the military has frequently relied on air attacks during fighting in Karen State, when Maw Khee base was seized, only surveillance planes were seen, Padoh Saw Taw Nee said. 

“The battle at the Maw Khee base started at 5am and ended only at 5pm and no aircraft came. Maybe it’s because of the weather but we can’t say for sure,” he explained. 

Around 2,000 locals from four area villages fled across the border to Thailand when the fighting broke out, according to a report by the Karen State-based KIC news organisation.  

The KNU issued an order on March 17 calling on junta units occupying nearby Kawkareik Township—just 20 miles from Myawaddy and also in Dooplaya—to withdraw and for civil servants serving the military council to leave the area. 

Regular battles have been taking place between the KNLA and the military in Kawkareik. 

The KNU vowed its opposition to the junta following the military coup on February 1 last year. The organisation is a member of the National Unity Consultative Council, made up of anti-dictatorship forces, and is collaborating in the writing of a new federal constitution. 

In December, the military launched a ground and air offensive against the town of Lay Kay Kaw, also in Myawaddy and along the road to Wawlay, in retaliation for the KNU sheltering dissidents there who had fled the junta. 

The KNU has claimed that at least three Myanmar army battalion commanders holding the rank of lieutenant colonel had recently surrendered to them, and that they were being treated humanely. 

Myanmar Now was unable to verify the defection. 

The military council has not released any information on its forces’ recent activities in Karen State. 

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