Shelling kills 3 civilians during the battle for control of a Kayin state township

The KNLA has taken control of buildings in Kawkareik township where a junta battalion is stationed.
By RFA Burmese
2022.10.21
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Shelling kills 3 civilians during the battle for control of a Kayin state township A building in Kayin State’s Kawkareik township that was damaged in a junta air raid on Oct. 21, 2022.
Civilian journalist

UPDATED AT 17:36 P.M. ET ON 10-21-2022

Three civilians in a township in Myanmar’s Kayin State died Friday after being hit by mortar shells fired by junta troops. At least 17 locals were injured as they were caught in the crossfire between the two sides fighting for control of Kawkareik.

Fighting started on Tuesday but intensified Friday morning with State Administration Council (SAC) forces carrying out aerial bombardments, according to an official from a local aid group, who didn’t want to be named for safety reasons,

“We didn’t dare to leave the room. The fighting kept intensifying around the town and the military was bombing with fighter jets. It is still happening now,” the official said.

“[The] injured were sent to hospital in four vehicles, but two [who were hit by shells] died there. All four of the vehicles that were sent to the hospital were unable to leave.”

The official later informed RFA that, in total, 13 men and seven women were injured by the fighting, while three civilian victims had died as a result of the artillery blasts -- two men and a woman.

He said that four men were injured when the fighting began after a shell exploded near a residential area and another four -- two men and two women -- were injured when a heavy weapon hit a street in a populated area of the town.

Three more men were injured when a shell exploded on the street in Kawkareik at around 10:30 a.m. and a woman was injured when a shell exploded inside a nunnery around noon, residents said.

The battle comes amid an upturn in fighting between junta forces and the Karen National Union’s (KNU) military arm, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

“At around 1 p.m., all departmental offices in Kawkareik town were occupied by the KNU/KNLA forces. They are preparing to attack the SAC’s Infantry Battalion-97, which is stationed in the town,” a soldier who is fighting in the battle told RFA.

“Our side is attacking from the south and north of Kawkareik town. There are general administration offices for the township, and district and housing offices there. They have all have been occupied… The SAC’s Infantry Battalion-97 is next to those offices. We are preparing to attack them. They don’t have many forces in the town,” he said, adding that the KNLA has also occupied the prison in Kawkareik’s police station.

Junta forces are targeting the occupied buildings, sending 20 fighter jets in six waves of airstrikes. The aerial attacks and four days of fighting have caused traffic jams on the road running from Yangon to Myawaddy township, which lies on the Thai border. A passenger, who did not want to be named for security reasons, told RFA many cars and trucks had been stuck in Kawkareik since Tuesday. About 500 passengers were left stranded at the side of the road.

A SAC press release accused a militant KNU splinter group known as the Kalo Htoo Baw Karen Organization and local units of the anti-junta People's Defense Force paramilitary group of attacking the township and injuring "some civilians."

Calls to Saw Khin Maung Myint, the SAC spokesman for Kayin state, went unanswered Friday.

A source close to the KNU, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing security concerns, told RFA that anti-junta forces remain in Kawkareik and have "surrounded Infantry Battalion-97," bringing a temporary end to the fighting.

Earlier on Friday, the Democratic Voice of Burma cited a KNLA commander as saying that the group had planned to "take control of Kawkareik" and that thousands of resistance fighters are taking part in the assault, which would make it one of the largest resistance operations to date. The officer said fighters had also been deployed to Kyondoe and Myawaddy towns, on either side of Kawkareik, in anticipation of military reinforcements.

DVB said that the military has sent in at least two aircraft from Hmawbi Air Base in Yangon region, which bombed Kawkareik earlier this morning.

The Institute for Strategy and Policy-Myanmar reported on Thursday that there have been more than 7,700 battles across the country since the Feb. 1, 2021 military coup through to Oct. 12 this year. The research group said Kayin state has seen the most fighting with 4,383 battles.

kawkerik-map_v003-01.pngAir raids kill 30

The fighting in Kayin came as new reporting by RFA found that the military had carried out at least 105 air raids across six states and regions in August and September of this year, killing 30 civilians, including eight children, and injuring 22.

Data exclusively compiled by RFA showed that during the two-month period the military carried out the strikes on civilian-populated villages and towns in 25 townships in Sagaing and Bago regions, and Kayin, Kayah and Chin states, where resistance to junta-rule is strong.

PDF forces told RFA that military has ramped up air strikes as its ground offensives have been increasingly less successful.

Kayah state and Sagaing region suffered most casualties in August and September, reporting showed. Fourteen townships in Sagaing were subjected to 27 air raids that killed 29 civilians, including eight children. The casualties accounted for some 96% of those from air raids nationwide during the two months.

One air strike on Sept. 16 in Sagaing's Let Yet Kone village killed 13 civilians, including seven children, and wounded 12 others alone. The attack, in which two military helicopters fired on a school for more than an hour, is believed to be the single worst air raid on a civilian area in Myanmar since the coup.

According to RFA’s data, 36 air raids were carried out in Kayah region during August and September, although the number of casualties was not as high as in Sagaing region because the area is less populated and defended by ethnic armed groups. 

A spokesperson for the ethnic Karen National Defense Force in Kayah state told RFA that the military attacks civilian targets nearly every time it carries out air raids.

“Some air strikes target not just battlefields, but also civilian villages and populated places like village clinics that are far from the fighting," said the spokesperson, who declined to be named.

"In Loikaw, a junta fighter jet fired a missile at a clinic for no reason," they said, referring to an Aug. 9 attack on Loikaw's Loilen Lay township that killed a civilian and injured two others. "They use more air strikes when they get hurt in ground battles.”

According to the statistics from the World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft (WDMMA), an organization studying air forces from 98 countries around the world, the Myanmar military owns 292 military aircraft, including 81 jet fighters and 81 helicopters.

Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government said on Oct. 7 that they have acquired anti-aircraft weaponry to defend against military air raids, although details of its arsenal have yet to be released.

An earlier version of this story was updated to include the increased number of civilian casualties, a statement from the SAC, and the current status of fighting in Kawkareik, as well as the number of civilians killed during air raids across the country in August and September.

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