Families fear for safety of missing Pekhon villagers

Relatives of 19 civilians who were taken from their village in southern Shan State’s Pekhon Township last week say they are growing increasingly worried about their fate.  

The villagers have been missing since last Wednesday, when soldiers raided the village of Kathea (Shwe Pyi Aye) after shelling the area during clashes with resistance forces the day before.

Most of the village’s more than 400 inhabitants fled the shelling, but 19 who stayed behind to care for livestock were taken into regime custody and haven’t been heard from since, their relatives said.

Photographs of the abducted villagers that Myanmar Now has seen show a group of blindfolded men being led away. Their identities could not, however, be confirmed.

“We haven’t received any information about them since they were taken away,” said one woman whose 48-year-old uncle and 35-year-old cousin are among the missing villagers. 

“All we know is that the military always beats and tortures the people they take. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for them now,” she added.

According to the woman, some residents of the village believe that the 19 who were taken away last week are currently being held at a nearby military base. 

There have also been rumours that the regime has offered to release the detainees in exchange for weapons seized during a raid on a military outpost on October 22, a spokesperson for the Pekhon People’s Defence Force (PDF) told Myanmar Now.

“We want them to be free as soon as possible. They were just regular civilians,” the spokesperson said, without confirming if the rumours of an exchange offer were true.

A coalition of anti-regime forces has clashed almost continuously with troops stationed around Pekhon Township in recent weeks. According to the Pekhon PDF spokesperson, one three-hour battle on Tuesday left four resistance fighters dead and displaced hundreds of local villagers.

Fighting continued on Wednesday with a clash near the village Settaw. Residents of the town of Pekhon, some five miles away, said they could hear gunfire from the battle well into the next day. At least three PDF fighters were reported injured.

Pekhon is located on southern Shan State’s border with Kayah (Karenni) State and is an area of great military importance. There are five military battalions based in the township, and the headquarters of Military Operation Command (7) is in Pekhon, its main town.

Large numbers of troops have also been pouring into the area from Naypyitaw, a four-hour drive away, to suppress the combined forces of the Pekhon PDF, Loikaw PDF, Central Myanmar Regional Operation Task Force, Karenni Nationalities Defence Force, and Karenni Army, which are all operating in the area.

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