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Thousands of villagers remain displaced in wake of Shwegu clashes

More than 10,000 people have yet to return to their homes in Kachin State’s Shwegu Township following nearly three weeks of fighting that ended on April 10, according to local sources.

The clashes, which began on March 23, left nearly 1,000 houses destroyed by repeated junta raids and airstrikes and also killed at least 11 civilians, the sources said.

Casualties and damage were reported in more than a dozen villages located south of the town of Shwegu.

Among the villages targeted were Hnget Tadar, Man Wein, Si Tha, Man Nar, Tone Kouk, Si Thaung, Man Khar, Si Maw, Hein Kaung, Si Mu Gyi, Si Mu Lay, Nam Lang, and Nawng Let Gyi.

“Many are still worried about going back, which is not surprising considering that their homes have been destroyed,” said one resident of Shwegu, where around 800 of the displaced villagers have taken refuge at four local monasteries and a lumber mill.

He added that some also feared that the regime forces, which were stationed at another monastery in the town during last week’s Thingyan holidays, could resume their attacks.

The fighting began after a junta column of around 50 troops from Light Infantry Battalion 10 came under attack by the Shwegu Township People’s Defence Force (PDF) as it entered the village of Hnget Tadar at around 9am on March 23.

Another column of around 80 soldiers from Infantry Battalion 77, under Light Infantry Division 88, joined the fighting that ensued over the next two and a half weeks. In addition to on-the-ground clashes, which also involved troops from the Kachin Independence Army, a PDF ally, the regime carried out at least 20 airstrikes, according to a spokesperson for the Shwegu PDF.

“The battles lasted 19 days and the junta conducted over 20 airstrikes during this time,” said the spokesperson. “Just think about it. It was essentially the Vietnam War all over again.”

Before withdrawing to Shwegu on April 10, the two junta columns carried out multiple raids on the affected villages, which lost a total of 960 houses and other buildings to airstrikes and arson attacks, according to the PDF spokesperson.

Among the structures that were destroyed was a regional hospital in the village of Si Thaung, he added.

Regarding casualties, he said that he could not confirm the exact number of junta soldiers killed. On the resistance side, five died and three were injured, he said.

Most of the civilian casualties were in the village of Si Tha, he added.

According to sources in Shwegu, the regime forces that were stationed in the town left at around 1am on Tuesday for Kyauk Gyi, a village located on the opposite side of the Ayeyarwady River.

The military often uses the river to transport weapons, ammunition, supplies, and reinforcements to Myanmar’s north, but its shipments are frequently intercepted by resistance forces in Banmauk, Indaw, Katha, Myohla and Shwegu townships.

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