The junta’s military jets have been frequently flying over territory controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU) in Bago Region and Karen State in what is believed to be an aerial reconnaissance mission, the ethnic armed organisation has said.
From April 8 until 10, there were more than 10 sightings of military aircraft in the areas controlled by the KNU’s Brigade 3 and 5, which have also been bombed in regime airstrikes in an ongoing offensive against Karen forces.
These airstrikes in the last days of March killed an estimated 14 civilians, wounded 40, and displaced tens of thousands of villagers, according to a recent field report from the Free Burma Rangers, a local relief organisation.
On April 8, the junta’s planes twice scouted Brigade 5 areas in Mutraw District, according to KNU sources.
Two jets flew over Phayar Lay Gone three times, where a KNU unit is based, and twice over three nearby villages at around 2pm on April 9.
Three hours later on the same day, four jets were seen flying above Law Mu Thaw village twice.
That same afternoon, there were more than three sightings of military jets in Dooplaya District, which overlaps between Karen and Mon states; as well as Kawkareik Township, near the Karen-Thai border; and the Lay Kay Kaw area and Phalu District.
The KNU announced that two military planes passed over Kyaukkyi (Ler Doh) Township in Nyaunglebin (Kler Lwee Htoo) District in Bago Region at 10am on April 10.
Locals in the district held an anti-dictatorship protest the same day, in which they denounced the air attacks on their region. The demonstration was met with a crackdown carried out by some 30 regime soldiers and 20 policemen.
Lt-Gen Saw Baw Kyaw Heh, the vice chief of staff of the KNU’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), pointed out that a number of the regime’s own soldiers– who are being held captive by the KNLA– are also at risk if the military continues its airstrikes.
“One wrong move could put us and the captured Burmese soldiers at risk,” he said. “We’re being very careful. We’re trying to take them to safety as soon as we can.”
Since the February 1 coup, the regime’s forces have invaded a number of KNU territories, which has led to clashes with all seven KNU brigades in Thaton, Taungoo, Nyaunglebin, Myeik, Dawei, Mutraw, Dooplaya, and Hpa-an districts.
The KNU’s Brigade 5 headquarters in Mutraw District and the nearby village of Day Pu No were targeted by junta airstrikes on March 27 and 28. On March 30, more air attacks hit Mutraw, as well as Nyaunglebin District under Brigade 3.
In total, more than 30,000 Karen civilians have been displaced throughout KNU territory due to both the airstrikes and ongoing clashes, according to the KNU’s Thoolei News.
The KNU has alleged that the military has been spying on their Brigade 5 territory with drones since 2018, violating the provisions of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, to which the KNU was a signatory prior to the coup.
A military spokesperson told journalists on January 23 that the Myanmar army only used drones for issues concerning “regional development.”
Myanmar Now reported on April 5 that Myanmar military aircraft had also recently been seen flying over the Restoration Council for Shan State/Shan State Army’s headquarters on the Shan-Thai border, raising concerns among internally displaced people (IDPs) in the area that the regime was “collecting information for targets,” a local said. Throughout 2020, military drones were also seen flying over at least two Shan IDP camps on the border.