Myanmar’s junta carried out airstrikes and heavy artillery attacks on Lay Kay Kaw, a town in Kayin (Karen) State’s Myawaddy Township controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU), shortly after 10pm (local time) on Thursday, according to multiple local sources.
A local source who was in the area when the attack started told Myanmar Now that a military aircraft bombed a location near Lay Kay Kaw immediately before ground troops stationed on a nearby hill started firing heavy artillery towards the village of Mae Htaw Tha Lay.
A source close to KNU administrators in Lay Kay Kaw said the initial bombing occurred at around 10:10pm. The exact location of the attack was still being investigated, he added.
“The airplane isn’t there right now. We’re asking around to find out where it bombed. And we can still hear the sound of heavy artillery,” the source said.
Two sources from Myawaddy and one from Maesot, a town in Thailand on the opposite side of the Moei River, which forms part of the Thai-Myanmar border, also confirmed the presence of airplanes and the sound of heavy artillery.
Junta troops launched a military offensive against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU, last week.
Members of the anti-regime People’s Defence Force (PDF), many of whom have been trained in territory under the control of the KNLA’s Brigade 6, have also taken part in recent clashes.
A source close to the PDF told Myanmar Now that a convoy of around 40 military vehicles was seen heading towards Lay Kay Kaw on the Asian Highway, which passes through Myawaddy, soon after the airstrike.
The source added that the military convoy was going in the direction of KNLA outposts in the area.
A PDF fighter reported two airstrikes on a PDF camp west of Lay Kay Kaw. He said his leg was injured in the attack, but no damage was done to the camp.
“There were two strikes. One hit the ground south of our camp and the other hit an empty area at the centre of the camp,” he said.
The move came three days after the KNU called on the United Nations to hold an emergency meeting to establish a no-fly zone over the Thai-Myanmar border to prevent the regime from carrying out airstrikes.
KNU spokesperson Padoh Saw Taw Nee confirmed the reports of airstrikes on Thursday but declined to provide further details. He also called on the international community to take action for the protection of civilians caught up in the fighting.
“We said that it would happen, and now it has, exactly as we said it would. The most important thing is to protect the public. Protecting civilians’ lives is the principle of the international community,” he told Myanmar Now.
In a late-night statement released on social media, the KNU again confirmed that two airstrikes had been carried out and repeated its calls for the creation of a no-fly zone.
A woman sheltering at a temporary camp in Hpalu, a village near the Myanmar side of the Moei River, told Myanmar Now that the proximity of the attack alarmed many in the camp.
“We were sleeping when we started to hear the sound of an airplane around 10:15pm. Soon after that, we heard an explosion together with the sound of the airplane flying. Now there are continuous sounds of heavy weapons,” she said.
She added that people at the camp were preparing to move overnight amid fears of further shelling.
Clashes between the military and the KNLA were triggered by military raids on the town of Lay Kay Kaw last week, in which some 30 people, including an MP from the ousted National League for Democracy government, were arrested.
Public Voice Television, a media outlet operated by the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), claimed earlier this week that KNLA and PDF fighters had killed at least 68 junta troops, including command-level officers, since the fighting began.
The fighting and junta raids have forced around 7,000 civilians to flee their homes. Roughly half are believed to have crossed the Moei River into Thailand, where they have received assistance from the Thai authorities.