Junta troops stationed in the Sagaing Region village of Natchaung set fire to at least a dozen houses on Monday after reinforcements arrived in three helicopters earlier in the day, according to resistance sources.
“We could see smoke rising from the fire last night. This morning we heard four more houses had been burnt down. There is still smoke,” a spokesperson for the Kalay Pa Ka Pha, one of the anti-regime armed groups active in the area, told Myanmar Now on Tuesday.
Soldiers stationed in Natchaung torched a number of houses in the village last Thursday after a day of fighting that included a sustained land and air assault by junta forces.
At least nine civilians were killed during and after that attack, according to residents trapped inside the village and resistance fighters who remain close to the area.
According to the Kalay Pa Ka Pha spokesperson, the reinforcement troops that landed by helicopter at the northern end of the village on Monday started taunting the resistance forces soon after they arrived.
“They shouted, ‘Come out if you have the courage. We will burn down the whole village’ as they entered the village,” he said.
A coalition of resistance groups that includes the Kalay Pa Ka Pha, the Kalay chapter of the People’s Defence Force (PDF), and the Chin National Defence Force (CNDF), has been active in fighting regime forces in the area.
Pa Ka Pha groups are self-organized resistance forces loosely affiliated with the PDF created by the shadow National Unity Government in May. Sometimes called local PDFs, or LPDFs, they have emerged around Myanmar in response to the junta’s violent suppression of anti-coup protests.
Efforts to collect the bodies of those killed last Thursday have been hampered by security concerns, a member of the Kalay PDF said on Tuesday.
“They’re using the bodies as bait so that their snipers can ambush us,” said the PDF member, adding that only five bodies have been recovered so far.
Resistance forces have denied claims made by the regime in a statement released last Friday that the victims were all members of anti-junta groups.
They noted that Maung Kyi and Htay Ma—two of the people who had been killed—were shot while attempting to prevent soldiers from abducting their pregnant daughter-in-law, Bel Eu.
According to the Kalay PDF member, Bel Eu has “no connections with any [resistance] organisation and is just a regular civilian.”
For its part, the Kalay PDF claimed that resistance forces killed at least 33 junta soldiers during the clashes in Natchaung on Thursday. Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify this figure.
In a separate incident last Thursday, the Kalay PDF and an allied group, the Chinland Defence Force, ambushed three military vehicles with explosives outside Man Taw, a village located some 60km south of the town of Kalay, according to a Kalay PDF statement released on Monday.
The statement also reported that anti-regime fighters clashed with the military in Natchaung again on Sunday.
Fighting broke out after resistance forces opened fire on soldiers stationed at the village high school at around 6pm and continued until around 6:30am the next morning, the statement said.
Junta troops stationed some 15km north of Natchaung at the Kalay Technological University fired heavy artillery at the resistance forces during the clash, according to the statement.
In response, some Kalay PDF members marched to the university campus to return fire, the statement added.
Resistance forces have not released any information about junta casualties from Sunday’s clashes, but said two Pa Ka Pha members were killed, while six other fighters from the resistance side were injured.
A joint force of Kalay PDF and CNDF fighters also carried out two simultaneous attacks on regime targets in the town of Kalay at around 3am on Monday, the Kalay PDF said.
No resistance fighters were injured in those attacks, the group added.
On Monday, the Kalay PDF warned civilians not to use the Kalay-Gangaw road and to be prepared to flee the area if battles reignited.
All calls to the junta’s information officers for comment have gone unanswered.
Some 10,000 locals from five villages in southern Kalay Township, including Natchaung, have been displaced by recent fighting and are in need of humanitarian supplies, including clothing, blankets, mosquito nets, food and medicine.