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Myanmar military bogged down trying to retake key border city

Massacres reported as anti-regime forces put up a heavy fight in the Dawna mountain range
A Myanmar national from Myawaddy carries her dog after crossing over into Thailand at the Tak border checkpoint in Thailand's Mae Sot district on April 10.  The ruling army’s bids to retake Myawaddy are not reaching anywhere.

A Myanmar national from Myawaddy carries her dog after crossing over into Thailand at the Tak border checkpoint in Thailand's Mae Sot district on April 10.  The junta's efforts to retake Myawaddy are not reaching anywhere. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 16, 2024 06:44 AM GMT
Updated: May 16, 2024 09:29 AM GMT

Efforts by the junta to retake a key city in southeast Myanmar on the Thai border have stalled after three failed bids to cross the Dawna mountain range, resulting in heavy losses, said sources in the People’s Defence Force (PDF).

In the battle to retake Myawaddy, they said, at least one hundred soldiers had been killed and at least another 50 wounded in recent weeks, casualties inflicted by the PDF, the armed wing of the exiled National Unity Government (NUG), and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), one of 20 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) battling the junta.

“Their wounded are badly treated,” the PDF sources said, adding at least 1,000 troops had been deployed.

“Injured officers are choppered out to decent hospitals in Yangon but the lower ranks are left behind and treated on the battlefield or in a local clinic if they’re lucky enough to find one.”

Rising to above 2,000 meters, the Dawna mountain range is a natural barrier that encircles Myawaddy around the Thai border and divides Karen and Mon states. The KNLA currently controls about 90 percent of Karen state.

The sources said the junta needed control of the high ground and the trails that criss-cross the range to deliver weapons and hook up with its remaining soldiers to the west and north of Myawaddy before launching its counter-offensive on the township, which was taken by the KNLA in mid-April.

Another source with the PDF said any advance by the junta could be further stalled by the onset of the annual wet season with the monsoons normally arriving by late May or early June.

“The PDF and the KNLA are fighting around the mountain range but there are blanket restrictions on media reporting issued by the Karen National Union (KNU). There are soldiers coming back to base in Myawaddy and that’s where our information is coming from,” she said.

She said the KNU — the political umbrella of the KNLA — was aware of peace talks being brokered by China in Kunming between the junta and the Arakan Army which is fighting for independence in western Rakhine state.

If successful, that could free up troops to be deployed east toward Myawaddy in what could be a make-or-break battle for the junta, which — over the past six months — has suffered its worst defeats since seizing power from an elected government in early 2021.

“This could add another dimension to the fighting,” a KNLA source added.

Elsewhere in Myanmar, further massacres have been reported over the past week as fighting in the south of Myanmar’s panhandle has isolated a thousand civilians who are under threat of starvation and been delivered an ultimatum from the junta.

Reports were unconfirmed but say more than 30 civilians in the Sagaing region were killed by the military and another 32 killed in fighting near Mandalay as airstrikes took 15 lives at a monastery in the central Magway region. At least 10 civilians have died by artillery fire in Rakhine.

Meanwhile, The Irrawaddy reported that residents of three coastal villages are hungry after being trapped by intense fighting between the junta and EAO-PDF troops for almost two weeks.

“About 1,000 people from Htamin Ma Sar, Lel Phet and Leik Thaung villages are trapped,” the online publication quoted a resident from Htamin Ma Sar village as saying. “Some residents from Htamin Ma Sar managed to flee, but residents of the two other villages are still trapped.”

“We will be arrested if we flee, but we will run out of food soon,” said another resident caught in the crossfire.

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