Tens of thousands of residents of 10 villages flee heavy clashes in Karen State

Around 20,000 civilians have been recently displaced by a series of battles between local resistance forces and the Myanmar military near the town of Kyondo in Karen State’s Kawkareik Township, according to sources on the ground. 

The clashes began on January 20 and lasted one week, occurring in villages across the Haungthayaw River from Kyondo. Myanmar Now reported on January 26 that 5,000 people had fled, but has since learned that 15,000 more residents of 10 communities, as well as Kyondo,  had left their homes and were largely staying at monasteries elsewhere in Kawkareik at the time of reporting. 

“We don’t know how many people fled to other places, as some went to Mawlamyine [in Mon State] as well as Yangon,” a monk providing support to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) said. “The ethnic Mon monasteries in Mawlamyine are full of IDPs, I’ve heard.” 

Displaced residents of Kanni (Supplied)

A man from Kanni, one of the villages where fighting had taken place, said that around 10 men had stayed behind in each of the communities in order to look after it, but everyone else had fled. 

“No one else has stayed behind, not even the monks,” he said, after returning to Kanni on January 24 to assess the situation. 

At the time of reporting, there are disputed accounts of how many homes were damaged in Kanni, and by whom. 

The Kanni local told Myanmar Now that 26 homes in the village had been destroyed, including two by the military’s artillery shells, one by unknown causes, and 22 that burned down in a fire which grew out of control after resistance forces torched the residence of known pro-military militia member Tun Lwin.

On January 26, the anti-junta guerrillas also burned the house of Kanni’s military-appointed administrator. 

The Thaton District office of the ethnic armed organisation the New Mon State Party, said in a statement on Sunday that it had been providing support to IDPs from the area. It also confirmed that resistance fighters had torched the Kanni militiaman’s house and that the fire had spread to more than 20 other residences. The group alleged that two locals were injured by the blaze, along with two more who were wounded by junta artillery fire that destroyed more than 10 homes, including three in Kanni. 

Displaced residents of Kanni (Supplied)

Another Kanni local said that with the exception of the homes of the administrator and the militia member—which were targeted by the resistance—all of the houses that were destroyed were due to heavy weapons fire by the Myanmar army. 

“It’s impossible that a single fire consumed all those houses,” he told Myanmar Now. “The junta forces were aiming their artillery shells directly at our village. Some buildings had half collapsed, and some wooden houses caught on fire after the artillery shells exploded.” 

He added that the resistance groups attempted to extinguish the fires.

A January 26 statement by one of the guerrilla forces involved in the clashes, the Lion Battalion Commando, said that just five homes were destroyed in Kanni due to the military’s firing of some 500 shells into the village.

That day, the military reportedly retreated from the area immediately around Kanni. 

In addition to the Lion Battalion Commando—which operates under El Say Wah, a tactical officer in the Kawthoolei Army, founded by deposed Karen National Defence Organisation (KNDO) leader Saw Nerdah Mya—also fighting against the junta was the KNDO’s own Battalion 6, the Garuda Column, and a unit from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army. 

According to the Lion Battalion Commando’s statement, the resistance groups had acted in response to Myanmar army forces setting up stations in Kanni, Kawt Kyeik, and An Galone villages. 

Three members of the anti-junta alliance were killed during the six days of battle, along with 90 military troops, the commando force claimed. 
Several junta offices in Payathonzu town—seven miles from Kyondo, on the Thai-Myanmar border—burned down after being targeted in arson attacks by area resistance forces on January 23. 

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