Wednesday morning saw clashes break out in territory controlled by the Karen National Union’s Sixth Brigade, one day after military forces raided a KNU controlled village in Myawaddy Township.
The fighting between an alliance of the KNLA, DKBA, plus other Kayin armed groups and the military took place in and around Lay Kay Kaw Myo Thit, the site of a raid on Tuesday by the military which resulted in more than 60 dissidents, including CDM participants and an NLD elected MP, being detained.
Many of those sheltering in Lay Kay Kaw Myo Thit not arrested in the raid yesterday have fled to the hills to escape further raids that were expected today. Reached by phone while the clashed were occurring, a woman who had managed to escape told DVB she could hear the fighting from her hiding place. “I heard the loud sound of artillery. It was quiet for a few moments and then the firing started” she said.
Another civilian in hiding told DVB that internet services had become unreliable in the area, a result of what appears to be a deliberate cut in service on the orders of the military.
According to the Karen Information Center, clashes occurred today in three places in the Lay Kay Kaw area and more than 400 people had fled as a result of the fighting. Padoh Mahn Mahn, spokesperson from the KNLA’s Brigade 5 based in the north of Karen State, told Salween Press that other Karen armed groups were joining the fight to repel the army from the KNU’s territory.
“When we got in contact with our troops in the field, the fight had already broken out. The Tatmadaw opened fire with heavy artillery. And we are preparing to defeat them not just with the KNLA team but other Kayin armed forces,” said Padoh Mahn Mahn.
An official from Lay Kay Kaw told DVB that the troops from Light Infantry Division 560 had been allowed to enter the KNU controlled town on Tuesday by local KNU officials and were allowed to enter again Wednesday morning.
“They got permission from the District officer and searched inside the town. They entered this morning as they would like to search and check a few more houses because they got information from yesterday’s interrogation. We got a deal, they wouldn’t torture the detainees and not raid again. If they break that deal there will be a defensive fight,” the Lay Kay Kaw official told DVB.
After the interview, a pause in fighting which had begun at 1.30 p.m. was broken at around 6 p.m. when Tatmadaw back-up consisting of five armoured trucks full of troops and Border Guard Force fighters once again began shelling positions in the district. [UPDATE: At around 8 p.m. there were new reports of at least a dozen military trucks converging on the area. It appears the military used its “agreement” with Lay Kay Kaw’s authorities to reinforce troops.]
Unconfirmed reports from local media suggest that at least six Burma army soldiers had been killed before the first break in fighting.
Located on the edge of KNU territory south of the major town of Myawaddy, Lay Kay Kaw was founded in 2015 during a thaw in relations between the KNU leadership and the central government, then led by Thein Sein. Funding for the town’s construction which has been promoted as a “peace village” by its backers, came in part from the Nippon Foundation, an organization headed by Yohei Sasakawa, Japan’s special envoy for national reconciliation in Burma.
A frequent visitor to Naypyidaw, Sasakawa most recently met Min Aung Hlaing in November in what Japanese government officials maintained was done in Sasakawa’s personal capacity.
Sasakawa and the Government of Japan have yet to comment on the developments of the past two days.