Fate of 17 villagers abducted by Myanmar junta troops last week remains unknown

Fears are growing for the safety of 17 villagers who were abducted by regime forces late last week following clashes in Sagaing Region’s Kawlin Township.

The captives were all apprehended last Friday as junta troops retreated after spending the whole day fighting in Taung Balu, a village located about 15km southeast of the town of Kawlin, according to local resistance sources.

A group of around 48 regime soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 363 took control of Taung Balu at around 9:30am that day, but immediately came under attack, the sources said.  

Regime forces based in Wuntho, some 10km north of Kawlin, later fired 19 rounds of artillery in support of the soldiers in Taung Balu, but two of the shells nearly hit the LIB 363 troops, according to a member of the Kawlin Township People’s Defence Force (PDF) who took part in the clashes.

“Taung Balu is located on a hill, and the junta forces were stationed at the monastery and school at the top of the hill. The fighting took place about 150m away, so we could clearly see everything that was going on up there,” he said.

Later in the afternoon, around 100 junta reinforcements arrived in Taung Balu, forcing the resistance fighters to retreat and enabling the besieged soldiers to withdraw to a base in Koe Taung Boet, a village in neighbouring Kanbalu Township.

On the way, they captured and detained 17 villagers, including 13 from the village of Kathit Kone, one from Hle Pwel, and three from Kya Khat Ai, according to a member of a local defence team in Kanbalu Township.

“All of the women in Kathit Kone were forced to stay at the monastery and then the soldiers took all of the men under 40 away with them. The four from Hle Pwel and Kya Khat Ai just ran into them on the road,” he said.

Witnesses said they saw the abductees being beaten on the way to Koe Taung Boet, he added.

He also claimed that the mistreatment of local villagers was due to the death of an army major who was killed in a recent clash.

“A junta major named Aya Min was hit in the stomach by a 40mm shell and died on the spot. That’s why the military is abducting random people and beating them up,” he said.

Kyauk Pauk, a village in Sagaing Region’s Wuntho Township, seen during an arson attack by junta forces in December 2022 (Kawlin Revolution)

There were also unconfirmed reports that one of the abductees had been beaten to death with a metal rod and that some of the others had been slashed with knives, he added.

According to the Kawlin PDF fighter, the remains of several junta soldiers were discovered in Taung Balu when the group returned to the village on Saturday.

“The bodies of the dead soldiers were piled up inside a house which was then set on fire, so all that was left was their skulls. By my count, there were around 13 of them,” he said.

Another junta column reportedly left Koe Taung Boet on Wednesday, but has yet to engage in any clashes, sources there said.

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