Junta forces continue ambushes on northwestern Myanmar villages by air

Two Sagaing Region townships came under fire by the military on Tuesday as junta forces sent 100 troops by air to villages in both Kyunhla and Wetlet, where they carried out raids and detained locals. 

In both incidents, villagers said that the attacks from the air either trapped them on-site or forced them to flee immediately without their belongings or loved ones. 

The assaults, part of a pattern of strikes on villages where the military assumes anti-junta defence forces are hiding, are reminiscent of an attack just days earlier on another Sagaing Region village: Chinpone in Yinmabin Township. There, troops held more than 100 people, including dozens of young children, hostage during a three-day raid and occupation that followed an airstrike. 

After leaving Chinpone by helicopter on Monday, the same soldiers were airlifted into another Yinmabin village, Thapyay Aye, where they displaced the residents and burned down an estimated half of their homes. 


Two fighter jets fired on Wai La Mu village, eight miles west of the Thaphan Seik dam in Kyunhla Township on Tuesday morning, as the village’s local defence force was holding a meeting in the community.  

More than 3,000 people from six area villages were displaced by the assault, including locals from Kone See, Pae Pin Chaung, Taung Ni, Maw Tone and Thet Kei Kyin, in addition to Wai La Mu. 

“They repeatedly fired heavy weapons. It was worse outside of the village. They fired a lot of shells into the woods, hoping to hit the resistance fighters,” a local man from Wai La Mu told Myanmar Now. 

Two civilians were reportedly injured in the airstrike. 

Some 100 soldiers were then sent into the area in four helicopters from neighbouring Kone See, and interrogated villagers who remained in Wai La Mu. 

“They took the villagers to the monastery who were unable to run. I think it’s some sort of a hostage situation as they aren’t allowed to leave the monastery’s perimeters,” another local man said. 

Because the ambush came from above, a 70-year-old man from Pae Pin Chaung said that locals had no time to gather their belongings before fleeing.  

“We could at least make a legitimate plan when we had to flee two months ago,” he said, referring to an attack by ground forces. “We weren’t able to plan this time as they attacked from the air. Our entire family had to flee and we got seperated.” 


A similar scenario unfolded in Wetlet later that day, where four helicopters again dropped 100 troops near the village of Kyauk Taing—eight miles from the Mandalay-Shwebo road—on Tuesday afternoon. 

Locals said that the soldiers searched the community house by house, destroying two homes—including one that belonged to a parliamentarian—and detaining around 60 people for interrogation, according to a man who managed to escape on Wednesday. 

“They threatened to destroy the doors and break into the houses if the locals wouldn’t let them in,” he said. “They also told the villagers to come back before 6pm or they would shoot and kill anyone they saw outside the village, and then they took the villagers to the monastery.”

“No other man has managed to escape yet. A group of men are being held inside a house in the village and another group is being held at the school,” he added.

The exact number of captives was not known, but among them are reportedly children and women. 

Although locals from Kyauk Taing managed to escape as troops advanced overland to carry out an earlier military raid in late July, this time they said that they were trapped, as the soldiers arrived by air without warning. 

Soldiers in Kyauk Taing village are seen during the raid on the village on March 1 (Supplied)


At the time of reporting, junta soldiers were still stationed in Kyauk Taing, as well as Wai La Mu in Kyunhla.

Several displaced locals from Kyunhla Township explained that they could not return to their villages for this reason, and noted that three heavy artillery shells were heard being fired from the Wai La Mu area on Wednesday morning. 

The military council released a statement claiming that their forces had raided Wai La Mu because they had heard that the People’s Defence Force (PDF) was in the village, resulting in a clash. They said they had seized several handmade weapons, including a mortar shell, grenades and explosives, as well as uniforms with patches bearing the insignias of the PDF and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). 

A member of a local defence force in the area told Myanmar Now that only local residents had joined the guerrilla groups in Kyunhla and that ethnic armed organisations including the KIA were not operating there. 

The military’s report did not state that their armed forces had employed fighter jets during the raid. 

The junta has not commented on the alleged hostage-taking in Kyauk Taing or the raid there. 

Increasingly present during military raids are members of the Myanmar army-allied Pyu Saw Htee militias, 77 of which have been armed by the junta in Sagaing Region alone, according to leaked documents from a military council meeting in mid-February. 

Junta chief minister for the region Myat Kyaw requested in the meeting that civil servants sympathetic to the military also be armed, and noted that the armed forces did not have full control over Sagaing. 

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