Junta launches major ground, air attack on PDF base near India border

Three members of the anti-junta Tamu District People’s Defence Force (PDF) were killed during a recent two-day military assault on their India-Myanmar border base in Sagaing Region, locals said. 

A 200-soldier junta column attacked the post—held by Battalion 1 of the resistance group—near Kun Taung village, eight miles north of Tamu town, at 6am on March 23. They were supported by the air force, which opened fire on the site twice that day, killing two Tamu PDF members. A third airstrike on March 24 caused a third casualty, according to residents of the area. 

Four resistance fighters also reportedly suffered serious injuries during the clashes. 

“They fired from helicopters twice yesterday: once at around 11am and again at 2pm,” a man from Tamu with ties to the PDF told Myanmar Now on the evening of March 24. “A fighter jet came this morning and dropped a bomb. We are in a situation where we could be attacked by aircraft anytime.”

Several buildings within the PDF base were destroyed in the airstrikes, other residents added, estimating that four junta troops were also killed in the ground battles. 

During the clashes, Myanmar army soldiers were reportedly supported by members of the military-backed Pyu Saw Htee militia and the Shanni Nationalities Army (SNA), an ethnic armed organisation active in northern Sagaing which is said to have ties to the regime’s forces.

Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify these claims. 

Tamu District PDF troops carrying out a military exercise (Tamu District PDF Battalion 1 / Facebook)

Htan Say, an elected parliamentarian who was unable to take office following the February 2021 coup and now serves as a spokesperson for Tamu’s People’s Administration Team, speculated that the attack by the military was calculated. 

“It appears that they had been planning this for a long time,” he said of the junta. “They set up a station in Kun Taung and gradually recruited armed forces in Tamu Township, such as the SNA and Pyu Saw Htee militia, which are also operating in Upper Kun Taung. They only started launching assaults on the [Indian] border area after they’d recruited enough of them. They’d been stationed and recruiting for about a week now.”

The SNA was founded in 1989 and mainly operates in areas where there is an ethnic Shanni population, including Banmauk, Hkamti and Homalin townships in Sagaing, as well as Mohnyin, Mogaung, Myitkyina and Bhamo townships in neighbouring Kachin State. Homalin borders Tamu Township.

Rumours that the ethnic armed group had been cooperating with the junta in these territories started one year after the coup, in early 2022. 

The SNA has denied these allegations in the past, after local eyewitnesses said that they saw Shanni troops fighting alongside the military in Sezin, in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township, and participating in the August burning of the village that left more than a dozen people dead.

At that time, SNA spokesperson Sai Aung Main told Myanmar Now that his group had “not been collaborating” with the regime and blamed the Kachin Independence Army—an ethnic armed organisation openly opposed to the junta—and the PDF for the torching of Sezin.

Myanmar Now contacted the SNA for comment regarding the recent accusation that its members were seen among the attacking forces in Tamu, but the calls went unanswered.

The anti-regime National Liberation Army (NLA)—formerly Battalion 3 of the Tamu PDF, under the command of the publicly mandated National Unity Government—released a statement saying that they overran a junta police outpost at Bokkan village, located on the road connecting Tamu with Kalay, on March 24, while the PDF’s border base was being targeted.

During the 45-minute exchange of gunfire, the NLA said that the police officers who had been stationed there fled the scene and that their own forces seized 12 guns that were left behind. 

The NLA left the PDF in early March and began operating under its current name. 

Battalion 1 of the Tamu PDF absorbed Battalion 2 one month earlier, creating a single unit. 

The status of the district’s fourth battalion was not known at the time of reporting. 

Some 16 resistance forces are believed to be operating in Tamu, a mountainous and commercially strategic township due to its shared border with India and its developed transportation infrastructure.

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