Five days of intense clashes between Myanmar’s military and joint anti-junta forces near the Thai border in Kayin state have left more than a dozen coalition fighters dead and several wounded on both sides of the conflict, sources in the region said Thursday.
The fighting began on June 26 when prodemocracy People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitaries and fighters with the ethnic Karen National Defense Army/Karen National Liberation Army (KNDO/KNLA) launched a joint attack on a military outpost near Myawaddy township’s Ukrithta village, according to a report by the pro-military Myawaddy newspaper.
The attack prompted a military retaliation that included artillery fire and airstrikes, the report said. More junta troops are being deployed to the area, the report said.
Sources on the battlefield confirmed to RFA Burmese on Thursday that a joint force of ethnic Karen and PDF units led by Cmdr. Saw Win Myint of the KNDO Special Commando Battalion are fighting to take control of the Ukrithta camp held by junta troops.
Battalion sources told RFA that at least 13 members of the coalition forces have been killed in the five days of heavy fighting, which includes clashes in the nearby villages of Wawlay and Myaing.
KNDO officer Boh Salone said that Myanmar’s air force had been pounding opposition positions with strikes since June 26, including as recently as Thursday morning.
“There are injuries on both sides but there are many on their side,” he said.
“They have been attacking us with jet fighters for the past four days. All throughout the day. When they came, they flew over the area four or five times and fired at us. The jets came nine or 10 times a day. They have already come 10 times today.”
The military has not released any information on the number of casualties from the fighting and repeated calls by RFA seeking comment from the junta’s deputy minister of information, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, went unanswered on Thursday.
KNDO chief, Gen. Saw Nedar Mya, told RFA that the junta is “desperately fighting to prevent the camp from falling” because of its strategic importance, although he did not elaborate on its significance to the military. The fighting is occurring near the Thai border south of Myawaddy, in an area controlled by the ethnic Karen National Union’s (KNU) Brigade-6.
Fighter jets scrambled
Thailand’s air force scrambled two F-16 fighter jets to patrol the border area on Thursday after its radar captured Myanmar air force jets allegedly violating Thai airspace briefly during their aerial assault against the Karen rebels, according to a report by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news outlet.
“At 11.16 hours, air force units found unidentified aircrafts violating territory at Pob Phra district, Tak province, to attack the minority along the border and later disappeared from radar screen,” the Thai air force said in a statement, adding that helicopters were also detected in the area, although they did not appear to enter Thai airspace.
“Therefore, the air force scrambled two F-16s to promptly perform combat patrol mission along Pob Phra border area and directed the air force envoy to Yangon to warn Myanmar’s related agencies to avoid reoccurrence.”
BBC Thai showed photos of a Russian-made MiG-29 jet flying over Thai soil and reported that it fired rockets into Myanmar’s Kayin state.
The alleged incursion occurred a day after junta chief, Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, hosted a delegation headed by Lt. Gen. Apichet Suesat of the Royal Thai army in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw for the 34th meeting of the Thailand-Myanmar Regional Border Committee, according to a report by the official Global New Light of Myanmar.
The report said that the two sides had discussed ways to strengthen cooperation between defense forces and anti-terrorism measures to improve stability in the border area.
Zay Thu Aung, a former Myanmar air force captain who defected to join the anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), said videos of Thursday’s airstrike showed that the junta is using Russian-made MiG-29s to raid the area.
“The videos show a MiG-29 attack, with the fighter gaining altitude following a bombing dive,” he said. “MiG-29s are very good as all-weather long-range attack fighters. They must have flown from [Yangon’s] Hmawbi Airbase.”
Residents of Kayin’s Myawaddy township told RFA that Thursday’s clashes had been the worst of the five days of fighting.
“There were a lot of airstrikes today. Quite a lot. We also heard today that there was fighting in [nearby] Lay Kay Kaw [township] last night. We heard the military fired more than 20 artillery shells,” one resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“At present, people from Wawlay, Myaing and Ukrithta are fleeing.”
Sources in the area said that the number of people who have been forced to seek refuge is unclear. Several airstrikes have been conducted in the area since anti-junta coalition forces seized a police station in Wawlay on May 18, detaining three policemen including the station’s commander, and freeing several PDF fighters, they added.
In December 2021, about 200 fully armed junta troops arrested several CDM staff and PDF members sheltering in a KNU-controlled area in Lay Kay Kaw. Several days of fighting ensued between junta forces and the KNU, causing more than 70,000 residents to flee the area.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.