A coalition of local resistance groups has lost at least 15 troops while inflicting heavy casualties against junta forces amid fierce fighting in the southern Shan State town of Moebye this week that has also injured several civilians.
The fighting broke out after some 300 junta soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 66 arrived in the town along with two tanks on Tuesday, and People’s Defence Force (PDF) soldiers said battles were still raging on Friday afternoon.
The junta’s military has bombarded the town with airstrikes and tank munitions, while many of the resistance troops have fought back with old or handmade rifles. “They dropped bombs seven times from two jets,” said a Moebye PDF spokesperson.
The Karenni Nationalities Defense Force’s (KNDF) Battalion 2 shared photos of dead resistance soldiers via Telegram on Friday, saying at least fifteen had been killed in the clashes.
The deceased include seven members of the Moebye PDF, a doctor from the Karenni Democratic Front (KDF), and a medical officer from GZ21 Loikaw, according to statements from those groups.
The number of confirmed casualties is likely to rise; several other members of the KNDF and other groups are also believed to have died, while other resistance fighters are missing and uncontactable, PDF fighters said.
The fighting intensified in the early hours of Thursday morning, when the military used tanks and fighter jets to bombard the area while around 200 ground troops separated into three columns also attacked the town.
One column launched its attack from inside the town’s residential wards, another advanced from the west, and the third came from the village of Wari Suu Pli, which is three miles south of the Moebye.
An officer from the Pekhon PDF told Myanmar Now that the junta’s troops have also suffered heavy casualties. “I was told that a great number of junta soldiers died and that one of our comrades had been hit as well,” he said.
The officer said local defence forces attacked around 50 junta troops who were stationed in Nyaung Waing ward early on Thursday morning.
At least seven civilians, including a child, were reportedly injured by junta soldiers firing heavy weaponry, said a spokesperson for the Moebye Rescue Team (MBRT), a local aid group.
The child was injured along with two men when a tank fired at the Mway Taw monastery where locals were seeking shelter from the fighting, he said.
One woman had to have her right leg amputated after being struck by shrapnel from a tank shell fired in her neighbourhood of Si Kar Ward 1, and another man was hit in the leg by a stray bullet during a shootout, he added.
The junta has cut off phone and internet connections to Moebye, making it difficult to confirm further details of deaths and injuries.
“It is assumed that the rest of the refugees are staying safely at the monastery,” said the MBRT spokesperson. “However, I heard that some shells hit some monasteries.”
His group has rescued 10 civilians who were trapped by the fighting, he added.
Bodies left behind
The Moebye PDF spokesperson said the seven counted as dead from his group were aged between 21 and 25, and only included those whose bodies had been retrieved. “We still can’t get the bodies of some of our comrades yet,” he told Myanmar Now.
A vehicle sent to retrieve other bodies was left behind when the military started shooting, he added.
At least six Moebye PDF fighters have been injured. “There are also some others who were injured but we can’t confirm yet,” he said.
Resistance fighters suffered heavier casualties than usual because of the junta’s use of heavy weaponry and airstrikes, he added.
“Although our troops have better geographical expertise, they have much more firepower and they also have an air force. That’s why we lost so many troops,” he said.
Another Moebye PDF member said that among those who were killed from his group, three were fighting with handmade rifles and four had old rifles.
“We don’t have many weapons,” he said. “We have to use handmade rifles and actual rifles alternatively. Even the actual rifles are old and used. We can’t open fire like them. Sometimes we even have to send supplies without holding any weapons.”
The shellings and arial bombings contributed to many of the deaths on the resistance’s side, he added. “They used too many heavy weapons. But we will not be giving up.”
On Friday morning the military sent 40 trucks full of troops as reinforcements from Taunggyi to Moebye, according to the Progressive Karenni People Force.
It is believed the junta wants to take control of Moebye to allow it access to roads that lead to Nang Mei Khon and on to Demoso, another area where armed resistance against military rule has been staunch.
“We have to pass through Moebye when we are transporting supplies,” said the Moebye PDF member. “They are going to carry out more assaults on Nan Mei Khon and Demoso as well.”