Junta attacks in Myanmar’s Bago region kill 8, displace 6,000

Airstrikes and artillery killed nearly 400 civilians in the first quarter of 2024, RFA data shows.
By RFA Burmese
Junta attacks in Myanmar’s Bago region kill 8, displace 6,000 Displaced persons of Yedashe township in Bago region are seen in April 2023.

Junta attacks since the weekend in central Myanmar’s Bago region have killed at least eight people and displaced around 6,000 people, a rebel official and residents said Tuesday.

The attacks in Yedashe township, located about 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Myanmar’s largest city Yangon, followed intense fighting between junta troops and rebel forces that saw nearly 400 civilians killed by military airstrikes and heavy artillery around the country in the first three months of the year, according to data compiled by RFA Burmese.

The fighting in the Bago region comes as rebel groups across the country have gained more ground and pushed junta forces back toward the capital of Naypyidaw and Yangon.

Junta forces attacked villages surrounding Swar town in eastern Bago’s Yedashe township on April 19 and have since killed eight civilians, including a child and a Buddhist monk, a spokesperson for the anti-junta Yedashe People’s Defense Force, or YPDF, told RFA.

“Four people from Ywa Thit village [including a child] were the first to be killed [that day],” said the spokesperson who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. “A day later, a monk was shot dead in Padauk Kon village and three men were also killed in the same village the day after that. The junta troops fired at whoever they saw during the offensive.”

The spokesperson said junta troops remained in the village area on Tuesday and that the identities of the victims remained unclear.

RFA was unable to contact residents of the villages for more information, as telecommunications in the area have been impacted by the fighting.

A building damaged by an airstrike of military council in a village of Yedashe township, Bago region, on February 21, 2024. (Daung Minn Thar-Yedashe-PDF via Facebook)

Clashes between the military and rebel forces in Yedashe, a town situated on the east bank of the Sittaung River, first broke out on April 17. Ensuing attacks by the military have forced around 6,000 people to flee 23 villages, including Gway Pyauk Kone, Swar Ywar Ma, Khin Tan, Koe Tan, Ywar Thit, Taung Gyi and Padauk Kone, a resident of the township told RFA.

“Nearly everyone in this area has fled,” said the resident, who also declined to be named. “Many people were also arrested,” including some as they tried to escape the raids, he said.

The exact number of people who have fled the township was not immediately clear.

Attack helicopters deployed

When contacted by RFA, Tin Oo, the junta’s economic minister and spokesperson for Bago region dismissed the reports as fake.

“This is the spread of fake news to threaten the people,” he said. “The real information is that the villagers are living peacefully in their homes. It’s only the PDFs who are fleeing."

Tin Oo added that there was “no fighting” in the area, and said junta security forces are working to “promote peace and security” there.

The YPDF spokesperson, meanwhile, told RFA that fighting “is still happening” and the military is deploying attack helicopters to carry out airstrikes.

“Aerial attacks take place almost every day, and people are facing a lot of difficulties,” he said. “Some people were injured and have no access to medical treatment. They’re too afraid to seek care outside of the area.”

Local agriculture has also been impacted by the fighting ahead of the summer paddy harvest, he added.

Hundreds killed

The civilian deaths in Yedashe came as an investigation by RFA found that at least 397 civilians were killed and 889 injured by military airstrikes and heavy artillery around the country from January to March this year.

The majority of the victims were from Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states, and Sagaing and Bago regions – comprising 52% of the total casualties caused by aerial attacks and artillery, data compiled by RFA shows.

A house that was hit by a shell fired by the military council in Laiza was seen on March 7, 2024. (Citizen Journalist)

In one of the larger casualty events, eight civilians were killed and 15 wounded when the military carried out an airstrike on a monastery in Kayin state’s Hpapun township on March 31, days after the ethnic Karen National Liberation Army had seized control of the area.

The victims were among hundreds of civilians who had sought shelter at the monastery amid the fighting, according to David Eubank, the founder of the Free Burma Rangers, which conducted rescue operations at the site.

“More than three hundred bombs were indiscriminately dropped from a Y-12 transport plane, accompanied by nine separate attacks from jet fighters,” he said in a message posted to the group’s Facebook page following the attack. “Among the refugees seeking sanctuary here, the majority were Buddhists from Hpapun. They thought it would be safe to hide in this monastery.”

Targeting civilians

Col. Naw Bu, information officer for the ethnic Kachin Independence Army, told RFA that the military is “deliberately targeting civilians.”

“Revolutionary groups are formed by the public, so the military has decided to attack the public and these incidents are inevitable,” he said.

Attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun for a response to Naw Bu’s comments went unanswered Tuesday.

But previously, junta officials have acknowledged that civilian casualties do occur during conflict and told RFA it is “unjust” to solely blame the military for such incidents.

Nang, an official with the ethnic Pa-O Youth Organization, which monitors civilian casualties resulting from the conflict in Shan state, told RFA that “every armed organization bears the responsibility of safeguarding civilian life and security.”

“It is imperative to refrain from targeting people who are not engaged in the conflict,” he said. “In addition, in areas where military objectives are present, minimizing harm to civilian populations is paramount.”

According to data independently compiled by RFA, junta airstrikes and artillery fire have killed at least 1,677 civilians and injured 3,263 others between the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat and the end of March 2024.

Translated by Aung Naing and Kalyar Lwin. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


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