Junta airstrikes against Karen resistance intensify on Thai border

The junta continued aerial attacks along Myanmar’s border with Thailand and crossed into its neighbour’s airspace on Thursday as clashes with ethnic Karen forces escalated around a military outpost in Myawaddy Township. 

The location, just a few metres from the border and near the Karen State village of Oo Ka Yit Hta, was attacked on Sunday by the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Karen National Defence Organisation (KNDO). Both are under the command of the Karen National Union (KNU). 

The Myanmar military responded by carrying out airstrikes targeting the resistance forces who have been fighting to obtain control of the strategic post, situated on a road used by the military to transport supplies and reinforcements into the area from another base nearby in the town of Waw Lay. 

As of Wednesday, the junta’s attacks on the KNLA, KNDO and the guerrilla groups fighting alongside them were being conducted entirely from above, said a source within the resistance coalition, with ammunition and reinforcements also being sent by helicopters from Waw Lay.

“The military council no longer uses [ground] weapons and only shells from aircraft,” he told Myanmar Now, adding that dozens of artillery shells were also fired towards the area from bases Lay Kay Kaw, around 50km from Waw Lay.  

At around 11am on Thursday, amid fierce clashes, the Bangkok Post reported that at least one Myanmar army jet was seen flying up to 5km into Thai airspace over two villages in Phrop Phra District in Tak Province forcing locals, including schoolchildren, to hide in bunkers. 

The source added that he witnessed a Thai military jet hovering over the border following the incident, which was confirmed by the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) in a statement that described an “unknown” aircraft flying over Phrop Phra after attacking ethnic armed forces in Karen State. 

Their own military then deployed two F-16 fighter jets to patrol the area, they said. 

A complaint was reportedly filed by the RTAF chief with Myanmar junta officials over the incident, according to the Bangkok Post. 

Reports on whether the junta jets dropped bombs while in Thai territory were conflicting, but a source within a guerrilla group fighting alongside the KNLA and KNDO told Myanmar Now that a shell did in fact hit Thailand, supporting testimony provided by a local source who told Thai media that his truck was damaged by shrapnel. 

At the time of reporting, at least 13 members of the resistance forces had been killed and 40 injured in the five days since the recent series of clashes began, according to a source close to the KNDO. 

Some 1,500 residents of the Oo Ka Yit Hta and Waw Lay areas had fled towards the Moei River, which separates Myanmar and Thailand, according to sources within the displaced communities; Thai media reported that a number of villagers had already sought refuge in Tak Province.

A 61-year-old woman who had lived in Phrop Phra for more than half of her life told the Bangkok Post that Thursday’s airstrikes marked the worst episode of fighting she had witnessed on the border. 

KNU forces and their allies have seized control of a number of key outposts in Karen State in recent months, including one in Maw Khee in March and another in Thay Baw Boe in May.

On June 13, an attack on a police station in Waw Lay resulted in the death of several police officers and the release of a number of captured resistance fighters.

The KNU openly declared its opposition to the junta following the military coup in February of last year. Karen forces have also been active in fighting regime forces in Mon State and Bago Region.

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