Two civilians killed by junta forces amid clashes in Karen State

The military carried out ground and air operations that killed two local men over the weekend following attacks on their outposts in Kawkareik and Myawaddy townships, Karen State, according to local news sources.

An alliance of anti-junta forces including several Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and People’s Defence Force (PDF) battalions conducted the attacks on junta bases in Kawkareik and Myawaddy townships on Saturday.

According to a local resident, two military helicopters subsequently fired on the towns of Kawkareik—the seat of Kawkareik Township—and Kyondo, 15 miles to the west. 

“Two local men were killed, but we don’t know if they were killed by heavy artillery or the military helicopters as they were firing at the same time. Several local people were injured and the residents of at least five villages were displaced as well,” said the local man, who was among the displaced people.

He added that women and children were among those injured in heavy artillery shelling by Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) 545 and 546, which are based in Kyondo. 

A KNLA-allied joint force commonly known as the White Tiger Column issued a statement last week warning local residents not to travel between Kyondo and Myawaddy starting on March 25.

According to a KNLA officer, attacks began at around 5am on Saturday near the Thai-Myanmar border trade zone in Myawaddy Township and continued in areas along the Asia Highway—including Kawkareik and Kyondo—throughout the day.

The officer said that the assaults were intended to target the police force in the Myawaddy trade zone and a Border Guard Force security checkpoint. 

“The ground battles took place around the Infantry Battalion 275 base. The military fired heavy artillery near  Me Ka Nei village in Myawaddy Township, which is just outside the town of Myawaddy,” the KNLA officer said. 

Amid fighting at the police station in the nearby village of Thin Gan Nyi Naung—located seven miles west of Myawaddy—the town’s tax office also caught fire, according to the KNLA officer. Clashes also occurred at the police station and LIB 546 base in Kyondo.

The KNLA officer added that two military helicopters flew over and attacked the area during the fighting, causing civilian residents of Kyondo and Me Ka Nei to flee their homes. Residents of at least four other nearby villages were displaced due to the attacks, he said.

“The firing of heavy weapons and airstrikes continued as the helicopters continued to fire back to back between Thin Gan Nyi Naung and Kyondo,” the KNLA officer told Myanmar Now. 

Myanmar Now has yet to confirm the total number of casualties on either side.

The Asia Highway—which  connects Kyondo, Kawkareik, and Myawaddy—is a critical shipping route for the Thai-Myanmar border trade.

Border traders told Myanmar Now that the Myawaddy-Mae Sot Friendship Bridges 1 and 2 were closed on Saturday due to the fighting but were reopened at around 3pm.

“The bridges just reopened as the battles came to a halt, we’ve been told,” a trader said.

The bridges had been closed down for three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and only reopened on January 12 this year. Traders said that a large number of Thai military forces were present on the Thai side of the border, possibly due to the conflict in Myanmar.

In Myawaddy, junta-appointed ward administrators issued an order for civilians not to leave their homes between 4pm Saturday and 10am Sunday. A local Myawaddy resident told Myanmar Now that the roads had been empty on Saturday evening due to the order.

The military council has yet to release a statement regarding the recent fighting in Karen State.

Clashes have broken out continuously in Karen State between the military and anti-junta resistance fighters for several months. 

In January, the junta responded to assaults by KNLA and PDF fighters on their bases in Kyainsikgyi Township with airstrikes and shelling. Later that month, resistance forces attacked, torched, and destroyed four junta departmental offices, including a military intelligence office located in downtown Payathonzu, Kyainseikgyi Township on the Thai-Myanmar border, leading to several days of serious fighting.

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