Half of Kayah State capital flees in face of military airstrikes

Half of Kayah State capital flees in face of military airstrikes

The military continued its attack on Kayah State’s capital, Loikaw, over the weekend in what is close to becoming the heaviest bombardment of a major urban center since the coup.

The military has launched an estimated twelve airstrikes since Saturday, whilst also firing rockets at targets within the town from armoured vehicles. Whole areas of the developed urban city now lie in ruin, with some sources estimating that 50,000 people have fled in the past three days.

On Sunday, it was rumored that the the junta had brazenly stated that, if resistance groups failed to put down weapons, its jets would destroy the entire city.

Despite the huge offensive, the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) has claimed that the Burma Army has suffered heavy casualties. According to the group, at least 30 soldiers, including one captain, were killed and several others injured after an armoured truck was bombed and a military helicopter was shot down as fighting escalated in Demoso and Loikaw townships. No evidence has yet been released to support the KNDF’s claim that a helicopter was downed.

According to a KNDF release, one Loikaw PDF member, 20-year-old CDM teacher Naing Lin, was said to have been killed during the fighting whilst attempting to rescue civilians trapped within the theatre of conflict in Loikaw. A fighter from the KNDF’s Battalion 6 was also said to have lost a leg, a spokesperson of KNDF told DVB. On Sunday night, a 55-year-old woman died in Demoso after being hit by shrapnel from mortars launched by military troops. Allied EAO, the Karenni National Progressive Party, claimed that seven civilians were killed as a result of shelling on Jan. 7 alone.

Tens of thousands of people from Loikaw township and surrounding villages are said to have fled the fighting to Demoso township and beyond. One displaced local told DVB that: “[the military] conducted airstrikes and we are fleeing as civilians suffered casualties”. Six civilians are reported to have been killed by the military’s heavy artillery strikes by Jan. 7, according to the KNPP.

The UN OCHR said on Dec. 9 that it believed around 85,000 people have become refugees in Kayah State since the coup. According to those on the ground, however, almost half of the entire population of Kayah State may currently be displaced by violence.

An official from the Karenni Refugee Assistance Network told DVB that, as fighting intensifies in Loikaw over the weekend, the number of the refugees in Kayah has risen by around 50,000, meaning that around 200,000 people require emergency assistance within the state of 300,000. As DVB recently reported, this means that in excess of half of everyone in Kayah State is now displaced. The group said that residents of Loikaw’s Mong Long and Pan Kaing wards have largely completely fled the city, and that thousands were still trapped inside. 

“As far as we know, the entrance and exit of Loikaw will be closed from tomorrow. As a result, many people have escaped today—almost 50 percent of the population has fled from Loikaw. The bombed-out areas are completely uninhabited,” the official told DVB on Sunday. 

On Sunday, reports from local media suggested that junta troops had turned back buses full of displaced peoples fleeing Kayah State to Hsi Hseng and Taunggyi, capital of southern Shan, as the military looks to entrap those fleeing the violence.

As a result of the fighting, the KNPP called on the international community “to take immediate action against the Burmese military junta and provide timely humanitarian assistance and protection for the civilians under attacks in Karenni State”. 

The National Unity Government (NUG) has said that, in light of the attack, it has provided around K50 million worth of aid to the region to help thousands of urbanites who now find themselves without food and shelter.