Yesterday, shortly before a military convoy consisting of over 75 trucks, two armoured vehicles, and a JCB backhoe was hit by IEDs laid by resistance fighters, DVB spoke to a guerrilla leader who has his sights firmly set on the final battle for Matupi.
Fighting has raged between the Chinland Defense Force-Matupi and the Burma Army since the military began piling troops into Chin State two weeks ago.
Ko July, the leader of the resistance group in the town—which sits on the state’s main highway, between Mindat at the gates of Chin and the capital of Hakha—says that, since the military’s burning of Thantlang, the conflict in Matupi has reached a critical new phase.
Before intense fighting resumed this morning, July told DVB how his guerrillas had been locked in intense battles with the military since Saturday.
“Military positions simultaneously opened fire with heavy artillery on us from the city—it is raining bombs and we haven’t been able to sleep since last night,” Ko July said of the military’s latest assault.
The intensification of hostilities follows days of tit-for-tat maneuvers from the junta. This weekend, the CDF had ambushed troops in Htu Pway, a camp that had been established on the border of Matupi and Paletwa. The group says that 20 soldiers were killed and that one of its own was seriously wounded in the skirmish.
As a result, officers at the mountainous Htu Pway base called in reinforcements from the city of Matupi, where over 200 troops have deployed in recent weeks.
However, anticipating the arrival of soldiers, the CDF encircled the city, blocking its entrances and stopping convoys from reaching the camp. In retaliation, security forces in Matupi detained 14 civilians, children included, from three of the townships’ villages. No explanation was given for the abductions.
“Those 14 civilians are innocent, I don’t understand why they arrested them; they were just working in the farm when troops abducted them. We feel so upset—they arrested civilians when they found that they weren’t able to defeat us,” Ko July said.
The CDF leader told DVB that villagers had yet to identify the location of the kidnapped civilians. In other cases across Burma, such abductees have been paraded as human shields to deter further attacks from local defense forces.
As with many cities in the state, the situation in Matupi has reached a tipping-point. The CDF says it is ready to launch its plan to seize the city from the hands of the military—but is holding on, for now.
“I’m afraid there will be another “Thantlang” on Chin land; I’m afraid if we seize the city, they will harm innocent people like they did in Thantlang. We have enough weapons and manpower and are ready to break the siege— we have already committed our lives to our people. We hold back because there are people staying in the city,” July said.
100 CDF volunteers currently surround the 200 Tatmadaw soldiers besieging the city—and July says that they are ready to attack at any time. The guerrillas have advised locals to stay indoors between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., and, after months of hostilities, are now very much used to nighttime patrols.
The group continues to move fluidly between the mountains and the city. Last month, the CDF Matupi killed six military informants in the town, after performing their own investigations into those who were eventually assassinated.
The group knows that, the longer it can hold troops at bay in Matupi, the more time it has to engage with increasingly coordinated regional armed forces.
In preparations for the imminent defence of Chin’s cities, PDFs from across upper Burma have, under the command of the KIA, formed a Joint Military Council—Military Special Region 1. CDF Matupi is part of this new force, and July says that its operations are soon to begin.
Closer to home, the Chinland Joint Defense Committee (CJDC) was formed on September 30, incorporating 16 local defense groups (CDFs, the CNA, and the CNDF) to allow for more streamlined joint operations.
“We have merged to uproot the dictatorship. Soon, we will try to seize upper Burma from the military.”
This cooperation is encouraging resistance force troop rotations in the region, increasing both the mobility and the efficiency of defense forces. Matupi CDF fighters are now participating in battles outside of Chin State: around 100 of the group’s members have signed up to fight under the KIA-led combined force.
According to July, soldiers of the Arakan Army were seen on the Paletwa-Matupi border on Monday. It is the first time that he has heard of the Rakhine EAO’s presence. Despite rumors that the group has lately been running guns in the region—something analysts say could change the face of the conflict—Ko July has yet to see an improvement in his force’s weaponry.
The CDF is worried, he says, that the soldiers may have their eyes on bordering Paletwa, an area claimed by some in the United League of Arakan to be Rakhine territory.