In Shan State, a little-noticed resistance struggle comes under increasing pressure

Ywangan Township, in southern Shan State’s Taunggyi District, is rarely mentioned among the many sites of conflict that have emerged in Myanmar since last year’s coup. In recent months, however, it has become a key target of regime efforts to suppress resistance to it rule.

According to local sources and armed groups operating in the area, the junta stepped up its raids on villages in the area in mid-March, in response to a series of guerrilla attacks that began in late 2021.

On March 13, regime forces entered the village of Nabangyi, located about 3km northwest of the town of Ywangan, and took several residents hostage, according to a resident. They also torched at least five houses, he added.

Five days later, Peyin Taung, a village about 50km south of Ywangan, came under attack from members of the military-backed Pyu Saw Htee militia, who apprehended two charity workers.

When the same group returned on March 20 to taunt villagers angered by the earlier raid, residents responded by fighting back with sticks, rocks, and slingshots, reportedly killing one Pyu Saw Htee member. 

This in turn led to a crackdown by military forces who arrived in several army trucks on March 22, forcing most of the village’s inhabitants to flee.

Since then, Peyin Taung has been occupied by army troops who have burned down at least six homes, a resident of the village told Myanmar Now.

Weeks after being forced to abandon their homes, 11 residents returned on April 16 to check on their livestock. Nine were reportedly killed the next day, while the other two are still missing, several sources said.

Six of at least nine Peyin Taung villagers who were killed by regime forces in mid-April (Social Media)

April attacks 

Several clashes were reported in Ywangan Township last month, including one on April 9 that took place between the villages of Hlwa Sin and Taung Boe Kwe. Four junta personnel, including an army major, were killed, according to resistance sources.

On April 15, the Ywangan People’s Defence Force (PDF) engaged in a battle with junta troops between the villages of Tae Lu and Taung U, killing 10 regime soldiers, including an officer, the group claimed.

The Ywangan PDF said it also lost five of its members in the clash.

At least three other armed resistance groups—the Ywangan Urban Guerrilla Force (YUG), the Taunggyi PDF, and the Shan Nationalities Defence Force—are active in the area.

In a statement, the YUG accused the military of using excessive force to take control of a base it shared with the Taunggyi PDF on April 22.  

It said that after a reconnaissance aircraft discovered the base, the junta opened fire with both heavy artillery and light weapons, forcing those stationed there to flee. 

One PDF scout was captured and later executed, but no other casualties were reported, the group said.

According to a member of a resistance group who did not want to be identified, the regime appears to be escalating its efforts to eradicate Ywangan’s guerrilla forces.

“Initially, Ywangan was labelled an ‘orange zone’ and three military columns were assigned to carry out clearance operations here. However, I recently heard that we have been upgraded to a ‘red zone,’ and that seven columns are now on their way here to uproot all revolutionary forces,” he said.

In anticipation of the coming offensive, most anti-regime fighters have moved to a safer area, he added.

Various items seized from a camp overrun by regime forces on April 22 and allegedly used as weapons

Civilian victims

As in other areas that have seen heavy fighting, civilians have not been spared by the junta. According to one organization that works with displaced villagers in Ywangan, at least 150 people have gone missing since February after being taken into custody by regime forces.

Arrests have been reported in the villages on Min Palaung, Taung-U, Nabangyi, Ledwin, Hmyar Kalay, Peyin Taung, Hlwa Sin, Kyaung Soe Kone, Tae Lu, Myin Kya Doe, Alel Chaung, and Kyatton, the group said.

A representative of the group said that relatives of those who have been detained have been unable to contact them, and that local authorities have not been forthcoming when asked to provide information.

“We’ve heard rumours that some were taken to the Taung Lay Lone Prison and others to Kalaw, while some are still near here, but we don’t know anything for sure,” he said.

Meanwhile, at least 500 villagers are said to be in hiding in nearby forests. On April 24, two volunteers assisting around 80 displaced villagers at a camp west of Nabangyi were reportedly arrested.

Residents say they fear the situation will continue to deteriorate, as more troops pour into the area.

On April 27, a junta column of around 200 soldiers launched attacks on the villages of Thapham Pin and Nghat Thauk, northwest of Ywangan, local sources said.

Resistance forces say the township has now been surrounded on all four sides by troops sent from other parts of Shan State, including Heho and Kalaw townships.

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