Clashes between junta, Karen forces intensify along southeastern Myanmar roads

The Myanmar military set fire to multiple civilian cars travelling along the Asian Highway in Karen State on Monday, according to a spokesperson for a local anti-junta defence force fighting alongside the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in the area. 

Battles between the resistance alliance and the junta’s armed forces broke out in at least two locations on the road which connects Myawaddy, at the Thai border, with Kawkareik District.

The Myanmar army reportedly launched an airstrike during one such clash near Kyeik village in Kyainseikgyi Township, and set fire to a truck and two other vehicles travelling from Myawaddy along the road near the Taw Naw waterfall on Monday morning. 

The defence force spokesperson said he could not disclose further details on the incident, including whether there were casualties.

“All we can tell you right now is that the cars were torched during the battle,” he explained.

The Karen State-based news organisation KIC reported on Monday evening that civilians were no longer using the Asian Highway due to security threats, instead opting to travel along other local roads. They confirmed that two military helicopters and a fighter jet came to the aid of junta forces in the area during clashes with the KNLA, starting on Sunday. 

Padoh Saw Taw Nee, spokesperson for the Karen National Union (KNU)—the political wing of the KNLA—told Myanmar Now that he could not comment on the battles in Kawkareik at the time of reporting. 

He previously said that junta forces had suffered major casualties in the district during earlier clashes with the KNLA and an allied defence force near Myo Haung village on March 31.

“The battle started very early in the morning and I was told that the military suffered a great deal of losses. However, I do not know how many died,” Padoh Saw Taw Nee told Myanmar Now last week. 

Local reports—which Myanmar Now has been unable to independently verify—suggested that there were at least 15 junta casualties, with several more soldiers injured. 

On the same morning, KIC reported that the KNLA’s Brigade 1 and an allied defence force attacked a junta checkpoint in Mon State’s Kyaikhto Township. The military’s retaliation included heavy weapon fire, reportedly injuring two locals. 

KIC stated that troops carried out searches of homes in the nearby Moke Pa Lin village following the clash. 

“The battles with [the KNLA’s] Brigade 1 used to take place only in the forests, but now the junta forces can’t go out of the woods anymore. They are always getting intercepted around the road,” Padoh Saw Taw Nee said, referring to the highway between Yangon and the Mon State capital of Mawlamyine. 

On March 29, two boys, age six and nine, were killed on the road when a 30-vehicle military unit travelling south from Bilin to Thaton opened fire on the area using heavy and light weapons, eyewitnesses said. 

That same day, the KNLA’s Brigade 5 reportedly attacked a junta base in Mei Waing in Mutraw District—known in Burmese as Hpapun—while the troops were receiving a delivery of weapons, ammunition and supplies from military helicopters. 

The helicopter fired back, injuring a 38-year-old man, and an 18-year-old man and woman. A house was also destroyed, according to the KNU. 

On March 21, the KNLA seized control of the junta’s Maw Khee base in the Waw Lay area of Myawaddy Township along the Thai border, forcing troops to retreat and confiscating a number of weapons. 

Padoh Saw Taw Nee said the military suffered at least 40 casualties on March 27 when a junta column of around 300 soldiers attacked the KNLA in the village of Bla Doh, just a few miles from Maw Khee.

Battles came to a halt in the area on March 29, the KNU spokesperson said. 

The military council does not disclose information on the daily battles breaking out with resistance forces nationwide. 

Data collected by the Institute for Strategy and Policy-Myanmar stated that nearly 2,200 battles had taken place between the junta’s armed forces and ethnic armed organisations between July 1, 2021 and March 20 of this year. More than 1,800 of these clashes—around 80 percent—were in KNU-controlled territory. 

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