Civilians flee shores of Sittaung River amid junta shelling, arson threats

Junta forces shelled and threatened to torch villages in eastern Bago Region starting late last week, forcing the local residents from their homes. 

The military had threatened residents of  Pazunmyaung, a village in Bago’s Nyaunglebin Township, with an arson attack in retaliation for the January 17 killing of two alleged junta informants. They later fired on Pazunmyaung with heavy artillery, claiming that anti-junta fighters had been there to collect money on January 28.

“All of the villagers fled in fear of the shells. Only those who had nowhere to run and those staying behind to look after their houses were left,” a Pazunmyaung resident told Myanmar Now.

Only about 10 percent of Pazunmyaung’s original population of 2,500 remained, he said, and the rest of the villages in the vicinity were also nearly empty.

The residents of at least 10 other villages near the shores of the Sittaung have been displaced since January 28, according to local residents. 

A man from Nyaungbingyi, a village on the western shore of the Sittaung River about 2km from Pazunmyaung, also said his village’s entire population had been displaced. 

“They’re patrolling the villages with mortars on their trucks and firing them off at will in the neighbourhood. They did the same in the villages on the eastern shore last night,” said the man.

“Most of the locals are fleeing to towns on the old Yangon-Mandalay road like Nyaunglebin and Bago, especially Nyaunglebin,” he added.

Internally displaced persons from Nyaunglebin District, Bago Region, seen in mid-January (KNU)

Resistance forces have responded to the military’s presence. Local defence teams in Nyaunglebin Township launched a series of drone attacks on junta troops stationed inside a monastery in Pazunmyaung, according to the local source in the village. 

“The soldiers didn’t dare sleep at the monastery after repeated drone attacks, so they ended by staying at the house of a man named Hla Tun in Zay Pine Ward. The house was abandoned by its owner before the military came and occupied it,” he added.

Junta soldiers usually shelter in well-built, two-storey brick houses abandoned by their civilian occupants, he said. If the houses’ owners were still living there, their mobile phones would be confiscated and they would be forced to stay upstairs, while the soldiers occupied the ground floor.

“They would beat up anyone that they didn’t like in the neighbourhood. One person was hospitalised with a skull fracture and a severe haemorrhage” after an encounter with the soldiers, said the aforementioned villager.

About 20km north of Pazunmyaung, in Kyaukkyi Township, junta infantry battalions 60 and 124 and light infantry battalions 351 and 439 fired some 30 rounds of heavy artillery at eight villages, according to a statement released by the Karen National Union (KNU) on Tuesday. 

The KNU statement also claimed that junta troops captured and tortured Saw Say El Gae, a resident of Inbala village, in Pazunmyaung on January 26, with the battalion commander demanding a large ransom for his release. 

Battles have lately become common around the villages of eastern Bago Region, where anti-junta fighters of the People’s Defence Forces and local defence teams as well as the KNU continue to target junta bases, battalions, police stations, junta-appointed administrators, and military-backed Pyu Saw Htee militias.

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