Bangkok (AP) — Recent fierce fighting between Myanmar’s army and resistance fighters has killed at least 26 civilians, including six children, in an area east of the capital, according to reports Wednesday by a resident, a rights group and a medical assistance group.
The fighting took place in Shan State’s Pekon township, a hotly contested area in the armed struggle that arose after February 2021 when the army seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The takeover prompted widespread public protests, whose violent suppression by the security forces triggered an armed resistance that now spans much of the country.
The recent fighting has focused on Mobye, a conglomeration of villages covering about 175 square kilometers (about 70 square miles) located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of the capital, Naypyitaw. The area is between the capital and an area dominated by the Karenni ethnic minority group, which also has been fighting against the military-installed government.
Newly formed militia units opposed to military rule are part of a loosely organized People’s Defense Force, or PDF, which has allied with well-established armed ethnic minority groups such as the Karenni, the Karen and the Kachin. The ethnic groups have been fighting the central government for more than half a century, seeking greater autonomy in border regions.
More than 100 soldiers marched into one of Mobye’s villages on May 27, arresting about 100 residents, most of whom were released after being detained for a few days in two Buddhist monasteries. Most have since fled the area.
A Mobye resident told The Associated Press on Wednesday that some villagers had hidden in their homes to avoid arrest, and were among at least 26 people killed, either shot dead in their homes or when they went out onto the street, or killed by artillery strikes. Six of the dead were children, he said. The villager, who spoke on condititon of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said he did not witness the killings, but that only soldiers were seen in the street when the bodies were collected for cremation.
His account could not be independently confirmed, and the military government has released no recent information about the fighting there.
Three local armed resistance groups last week blamed the army for the killings.
Maui, the vice commander-in-chief and Secretary No. 2 of the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the army “recklessly shot the villagers when they marched into the village although there was no fighting there.”
Banyar Khun Aung, executive director of the Karenni Human Rights Group, estimated Wednesday that more than 30 people had been killed in Mobye, almost all of them by the army, some after being arrested and some by shelling.
The Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian relief organization that offers hands-on medical assistance to ethnic minority villagers in Myanmar’s border regions, also tallied 26 dead after arriving at the scene, and said there were 20 wounded. It said on its website that villagers had found three bodies that had evidently been forced to kneel and were shot point-blank in the head.
The PDF and ethnic guerrillas regularly attack military columns, bases and outposts. They are badly outgunned by the military government’s forces that have been carrying out large scale offensives in contested territory, employing artillery and air strikes as well as soldiers on the ground. Their attacks have often resulted in civilian casualties and have credibly been linked to deliberate human rights abuses. The military’s attacks have displaced more than a million people, causing a humanitarian crisis.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 3,659 civilians have been killed by the security forces and 23,337 people arrested since the army’s 2021 takeover. The group keeps detailed tallies of arrests and casualties linked to the nation’s political conflicts.