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Aid workers hunt for bodies after shelling, air raids in Myanmar’s Shan state

At least 28 civilians have been killed in nearly six weeks of fierce fighting between junta forces and ethnic armies in Myanmar’s eastern Shan state, aid workers told us on Wednesday.

Junta troops shelled Moebye (also known as Moe Bye and Mobye) in the south of the state from May 25, and targeted the township with air raids. Rescue workers say they are treating another 20 locals and still looking for bodies.

“Most of the injured were shot,” said an official from a local aid group, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

“In addition, the number of the deaths from May 27 to July 4 is about 28 people who were hit and killed by heavy artillery.”

He added that Moebye Hospital has been closed since the Feb. 1, 2021, military coup, so the injured had to be sent to Loikaw Hospital in Kayah state and Aungban Hospital in southern Shan state.

Aid groups say it has been difficult to look for bodies and take the injured for treatment because the main road is impassable during battles and closed at night.

“[The junta troops] do not harm us, but if you pick up [bodies] near where they are, you have to ask for permission,” said a local who has been collecting bodies and who also requested anonymity for safety reasons.

“Some dead bodies have been around for almost a month. The deceased were buried in the nearest cemetery to where their bodies were found.”

The volunteer told us some neighborhoods are still inaccessible so it has been impossible to bury the dead there.

Shadow government condemns killings

Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government issued a statement on June 14, saying the bodies of 14 locals had been discovered near a pagoda to the north of Moebye between June 6 and 8. It strongly condemned the killings.

We tried to contact the Mobye People’s Defense Force and the Karenni Defense Forces about the military situation in Moebye township, but telephone services had been cut.

A report Wednesday by the local paper Mekong News quoted a local defense force member as saying the fighting was ongoing, phone and internet communication had been cut and people should stay in their homes.

Ba Nyar, the founder of the Karenni Human Rights Group, said most of the civilians who died in Moeby were deliberately targeted by junta troops.

“These actions can be viewed as war crimes. They are deliberate killings,” he told us.

“If we look at some of the ways things have been done: for example, continuous bombing by fighter jets is a war crime which makes it impossible for people to live there.”

Wecalled Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the junta’s deputy information minister, and also Shan state spokesperson Khun Thein Maung, seeking their comments but nobody answered.

Villagers displaced by the fighting receive medical care at a camp in Moebye township, Shan state on 28 April 2023. Credit: Mobye Rescue Team


Locals said more than 20,000 people, or two-thirds of Moebye’s population, fled their homes at the height of the fighting and have been unable to return.

They said that junta troops are stationed in the center of the town and only a few people have stayed behind to guard homes.

According to the figures from the Karenni Human Rights Group, more than 260,000 people in Moebye – which borders Kayah state – and in the whole of Kayah state have been unable to return home.

Moebye and Kaya state are close to Myanmar’s capital and junta stronghold Naypyidaw, leading some analysts to speculate that the junta is trying to prevent them from being used as bases to attack the regime’s leaders.