Myanmar junta troops use Hpakant churchgoers as human shields

Regime forces raided the church last week after coming under attack from the Kachin Independence Army

Junta troops raided a church and abducted around 40 civilians, including displaced villagers, in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township last week, according to locals.

Residents of Namtyar, a village located about 35km east of the town of Hpakant, said that soldiers stationed at a nearby base entered the church at around 9pm on August 23 looking for civilians to use as human shields.

They then held them hostage at the base until they were ready to leave for Hpakant on the morning of August 25, a local man told Myanmar Now.

“They left [Friday] morning, but the people they took with them won’t be able to return until after they arrive in Hpakant,” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“[The soldiers] also broke into a number of houses,” he added.

The abducted civilians included residents of the village, internally displaced persons from other villages, and people who were passing through the area, he said.

Myanmar Now was unable to determine at the time of reporting if any of the hostages have since been released.

The incident occurred a day after the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) intercepted a regime column that was travelling towards Hpakant from the jade-mining town of Kamaing, some 60km to the east.

The column was attacked shortly before it could reach Namtyar, and the KIA then closed the road between the village and Hpakant, sources in the area reported.

In response, the troops stationed near Namtyar fired heavy artillery in the direction of the village, injuring one woman, the sources said.

The column that left last Friday with 40 hostages consisted of around 160 troops, according to a man with connections to the KIA and the anti-regime People’s Defence Force.

It later split up into three groups and carried out a number of attacks on villages on the way to Hpakant, he added.

“I don’t think the armed revolutionary forces will attack them, as they are holding hostages. But the roads are still blocked,” said the man, speaking on Friday.

On August 7, the KIA captured two junta outposts and one belonging to the Shanni Nationalities Army, an ethnic armed group accused of siding with the Myanmar military, southwest of Hpakant. A day later, the regime conducted airstrikes in the area in an effort to recapture the outposts.

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