Thousands of residents recently fled Loikaw and the surrounding area as the military carried out a series of aerial bombings around the Karenni State capital and resistance groups attacked junta forces in the city.
Locals from the villages of Bado, Htay Ngar Hlyar, Daw Ei Khu, Mong Lone, and Naung Yah reportedly left for neighbouring southern Shan State’s Taunggyi and Hsihseng townships. The Pa-O National Liberation Organisation, which is active in that region, issued a statement saying that the group would provide sanctuary for displaced people from Loikaw.
“We heard that there were some people that were trapped and couldn’t go elsewhere, so we are trying to help them,” a representative of the ethnic armed organisation told Myanmar Now.
Karenni resistance forces started an offensive called Operation 11.11 on November 11 against troops in the capital—the state’s primary junta stronghold—with battles escalating on November 13.
A spokesperson for the anti-junta Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF) said that the military had responded with repeated airstrikes against both resistance and civilian targets in the city of 50,000, located just 70 miles from the regime capital of Naypyitaw.
“They are targeting every tall building. They’ve been dropping bombs around here on a daily basis since two days after the first battle,” the spokesperson said.
Khu Reedu, the KNDF’s military chief, posted a photo on social media of the junta’s district courthouse on fire in downtown Loikaw on November 17, captioned “straightening out the military council’s corrupted judiciary system.”
Loikaw University, which was previously occupied by two Myanmar army battalions, came under the control of resistance forces on November 15, according to the KNDF, which said in a statement that more than 100 junta soldiers were killed in the battle for the site, and 38 surrendered.
The military repeatedly fired 120mm artillery shells at western Loikaw, where the university is located, until the evening of November 16.
A man from Loikaw said that residents of the city who were unable to leave instead moved to wards located further from the Myanmar army’s remaining posts.
“We had to move to a ward that was slightly further away from the junta administration offices and battalions,” he said. “We heard not only airstrikes and heavy weapons, but also the firing of light weapons. Even the houses big and small were shaken. The elderly people and the children are scared.”
The UN has estimated that more than 2 million people are displaced throughout Myanmar. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a November 15 statement that he was “deeply concerned by the expansion of conflict” in the country and “call[ed] on all parties to adhere to international humanitarian law and do their utmost to protect civilians.”