Myanmar junta halfway to recapturing Kayah state capital

Some 500 junta troops are now stationed in 3 of the city’s wards and ethnic rebels are digging in.
By RFA Burmese
2024.06.07
Myanmar junta halfway to recapturing Kayah state capital A June 6, 2024 image posted to the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force B - 05 Facebook page.
Karenni Nationalities Defense Force B - 05 via Facebook

Myanmar’s military is halfway to recapturing the Kayah state capital Loikaw since launching an offensive against the city at the end of May, residents said Friday.

Since November, the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force, or KNDF, and its ethnic allies have seized 65 junta bases and eight towns, including 12 outposts, from the military in Kayah and, as recently as the end of April, had claimed to control 80% of Loikaw.

But in March, the military began an offensive along the highway to Loikaw from Hsihseng township about 65 kilometers (40 miles) to the north and, by the end of last month, some 500 junta troops had regained positions in the city’s Shan Pine, Mingalar and Dawtama Gyi wards, a resident told RFA Burmese.

“The junta forces have regained control of about 50% of the city, but not the entire area,” said the resident who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. “They have retaken their positions at their former regional command headquarters and No. 55 Division [outpost] … Their drones use advanced technology, and rebel forces could not defend against them effectively.”

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A March 23, 2024 image posted to the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force B - 05 Facebook page. (Karenni Nationalities Defense Force B - 05 via Facebook)

RFA reported in May that the military is adding advanced Chinese drones to its arsenal and using them to attack its enemies with increasingly devastating effect.

Rebel forces retain control of southern Loikaw’s Mong Lon ward, residents said, and battles are occurring there frequently.

Some residents who returned to Loikaw after seeking shelter during the heaviest fighting told RFA that their shops and homes had been burglarized, although it was not immediately clear by whom.

Preparing to defend Loikaw

Banya, a secretary of the anti-junta Karenni State Interim Executive Council, said that the military has been attacking Loikaw “with excessive force.”

“Fighting is taking place almost every day,” he said. “They [junta troops] seem to be trying to regain control of Loikaw city.”

According to the KNDF, military columns headed to Loikaw from southern Shan State include junta forces who surrendered the No. 55 Division outpost and new soldiers recruited as part of the People’s Military Service Law – a conscription drive enacted by the junta in February that has driven thousands of draft-dodgers into rebel-controlled territory and abroad.

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A January 18, 2024 image posted to the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force B - 05 Facebook page. (Karenni Nationalities Defense Force B - 05 via Facebook)

KNDF Vice-Commander Marwi told RFA his forces are digging in and preparing to defend the city.

“If they enter our control area, we will launch an all-out attack,” he said.

Attempts by RFA to contact Zarni Maung, the junta’s spokesperson for Kayah state, for comment on the military’s push into Loikaw went unanswered Friday.

City of strategic importance

A former military officer, who now works as a political commentator, said the junta wants to retake Loikaw due to its strategic importance.

"The population density is the highest in Loikaw, so controlling Loikaw means controlling Kayah state,” he said the former officer, who also declined to be named.

ENG_BUR_LOIKAW_06072024.4.jpg
A March 23, 2024 image posted to the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force B - 05 Facebook page. (Karenni Nationalities Defense Force B - 05 via Facebook)

The former officer said that the assistance of the pro-junta Pa-O militia had proved “very effective for the military” in its Kayah state offensive.

According to the anti-junta Progressive Karenni People Force, nearly 200 battles occurred between junta forces and the KNDF in Kayah state and neighboring Shan state during the five months from Jan. 1 to June 1.

During the battles, the junta deployed airstrikes and heavy artillery, killing at least 51 people displaced by conflict, it said. Karenni joint forces claim to have lost 139 soldiers and killed 562 junta troops in the fighting.

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

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