Three columns join to form a 300-soldier unit that assaulted a Wuntho Township village, killing a woman and an infant
Two civilians, including an 18-month-old child, were killed during a Myanmar army raid in northern Sagaing Region’s Wuntho Township on Sunday, according to a member of an anti-junta guerrilla force active in the area.
The attack, which targeted Pein Hne Kone village, occurred on the second day of clashes between the military and allied resistance groups from Wuntho as well as Kawlin Township, located to the south.
Two junta columns were ambushed by the alliance near the village of Lwin Gyi—one mile from Pein Hne Kone—on Saturday.
According to the information officer from a Wuntho-based resistance group, one of the military columns—which had around 80 soldiers—retreated into Lwin Gyi after suffering several casualties at around 3pm.
“We set up landmines at the entrance of Lwin Gyi, so a lot of them were killed. We haven’t confirmed the exact numbers, but up to six of them died in that attack,” he said.
Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify the resistance spokesperson’s figures.
The second unit of 50 junta troops, who had just torched and destroyed the nearby village of Shwe Taik Kone, joined the column in Lwin Gyi that afternoon around the time of the resistance force’s attack. Together, the combined column of approximately 130 soldiers stayed overnight in Lwin Gyi before setting fire to the village at 6am on Sunday and departing.
They then joined a larger third column of 180 troops and raided Pein Hne Kone around two hours later, firing artillery into the village before burning at least four homes.
A woman was shot dead that afternoon while trying to flee the occupying soldiers, the Wuntho resistance force spokesperson said, adding that her identity was not confirmed.
An infant, one-and-a-half years old, was killed by heavy weapons fire; his father and one other civilian were also injured, he added.
On Monday morning, the consolidated unit of more than 300 troops advanced into the forests west of Ka Na Hpawt, the village next to Pein Hne Kone.
As of Monday afternoon, there were no further clashes in the area, according to the resistance spokesperson, who noted that guerrilla forces were still monitoring the junta soldiers in question.
Local resistance groups claimed that some 20 Myanmar military troops were killed in an earlier battle in Wuntho Township, near Tone Kyeik village, on January 12.
Myanmar Now was unable to confirm those figures.
The junta does not typically release information on clashes or casualties.
Myanmar Now provides an overview of underreported developments in the country over the past week, January 16-23
The junta authorities moved the detained civilian President Win Myint to a prison in Taungoo, Bago Region, more than one week ago, Myanmar Now recently learned. The town is located around 60 miles south of Naypyitaw, the country’s administrative capital, where he was believed to have been kept under house arrest since the coup that deposed his elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government nearly two years ago.
On January 23, Myanmar Now confirmed with two sources familiar with the detained President’s situation that he had been sent to the prison on January 14. The regime authorities have yet to officially acknowledge the transfer, and staff at a police station in Naypyitaw accepted parcels for Win Myint on January 23 as usual, the first source said. A second source added that there is no information available on the President’s wife Cho Cho, elder sister Ma Ma Lay, daughter Phyu Phyu Thin, or a female caretaker and her mother, all of whom were kept under house arrest with Win Myint, despite having no criminal charges filed against them.
The family members have not returned to Win Myint’s native Pathein Township in Ayeyarwady Region, where he had maintained a residence, according to a Pathein local who is close to his family.
President Win Myint (President’s Office)
The 71-year-old ousted President was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being convicted in a junta-controlled court of eight charges—five of which were related to alleged corruption—and finalised in late December.
Observers have dismissed the cases as fabricated accusations filed against civilian leaders by the military in the wake of the February 1, 2021 coup. Ousted NLD State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was likewise sentenced to 33 years in prison after being handed 19 convictions.
With their trials completed, there had been speculation that the pair would be transferred to prison, but at the time of reporting, Suu Kyi continued to be held in separate quarters in the Naypyitaw Detention Centre.
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing met with Chalermphon Srisawasdi, chief of defence forces of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, in Thandwe, Rakhine State, on January 20 as Myanmar hosted the eighth ever high-level meeting between the two countries’ militaries. Regime mouthpieces did not disclose details regarding the private meeting between Min Aung Hlaing and Srisawasdi on that day but during the addresses delivered by the men as part of the three-day meeting, both expressed a desire to improve existing military relations and to take further steps to increase border security. Srisawasdi said he would “strive to maintain Myanmar and Thai militaries as perpetual good friends.”
Among the Myanmar military’s delegation were chief of general staff Gen Maung Maung Aye, navy commander Adm Moe Aung, air force commander Gen Tun Aung, and other officers such as chief of military security affairs Lt-Gen Ye Win Oo. The meeting was the first between the two military chiefs since Myanmar’s coup nearly two years ago.
Chalermphon Srisawasdi, chief of defence forces of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, (left) and Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing (right) (Cincds)
Min Aung Hlaing and his wife Kyu Kyu Hla attended the Lunar New Year celebrations and the closing ceremony of a commemorative friendship basketball tournament organised by the Chinese embassy and the Myanmar Chinese Chamber of Commerce at Thuwunna National Indoor Stadium-1 in Yangon on January 21. Also present at the occasion was Chinese ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai, President of the Myanmar Chinese Chamber of Commerce Aik Tun, members of the military council, the regime’s Yangon Region chief minister, and other army officials. Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing again expressed his support for the “One China Policy” in a speech at the event, declaring that “one must stay true to one’s own convictions, regardless of who is breaching theirs,” quoting a Burmese proverb.
Min Aung Hlaing (left) and Chen Hai, Chinese ambassador to Myanmar (right), are seen at the Lunar New year Celebration at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium-1 on January 21 (Cincds)
Meanwhile, the Myanmar-born Chinese community in Yangon celebrated the Lunar New Year quietly and largely in their own homes over the weekend. It stood in sharp contrast to the once festive and government-sponsored displays shared prior to the military coup in Lanmadaw Township, known as the commercial hub’s Chinatown.
Traditional red decorations, but no large crowds, were seen at Chinese temples in the area. Chinese traditional dragon dance competitions and firecrackers have become increasingly rare as the community resists a return to a “new normal” under the military rule in solidarity with the majority of Myanmar’s diverse population.
A Chinese temple in Yangon’s Chinatown in which there was no typical crowd of visitors on January 22, the Lunar New Year (Myanmar Now)
The Myanmar coup regime accused the anti-junta People’s Defence Force (PDF) of attacking 13 election commission offices in six states and regions over the past year, in an announcement that appeared in military-run newspapers on January 23. The assaults caused more than 367.5m kyat (US$175,000) in damage, it said.
Six of the strikes were reportedly perpetrated in Chin State and Sagaing Region, both known resistance strongholds. Others were said to have occurred in Karen and Karenni states, as well as Magway and Tanintharyi regions, where the junta has also been facing significant challenges in fighting guerrilla forces and ethnic armed organisations opposed to military rule.
Junta immigration minister Myint Kyaing and staff are seen checking on the data collection process in Thingangyun Township, Yangon, on January 14 (Military council’s information ministry)
As a pretext for the February 2021 coup, the military rejected the results of Myanmar’s 2020 election—in which the governing NLD won a majority—pointing to widely unsubstantiated claims of fraud as justification for the takeover. Since then, the junta has planned to hold new elections under its own authority.
In recent weeks, resistance forces across the country also launched multiple attacks on junta personnel collecting data from residents in preparation for the military-controlled vote scheduled for later this year. Various ethnic armed organisations, the publicly mandated National Unity Government and its affiliated PDF are among those who have declared that they will not recognise the legitimacy of a military election.
The Myanmar military launches days of consecutive airstrikes on Moe Tar Lay village in Katha Township
Battles between resistance forces and the military followed a series of junta airstrikes launched on Friday in Katha Township, northern Sagaing Region, according to local sources.
Allied guerrilla groups ambushed a Myanmar army column of more than 70 soldiers under Light Infantry Division 77 on January 19 near the village of Moe Tar Lay, some 20 miles from Katha town, as they advanced through the township from the occupied community of Chaung Wa.
Members of the People’s Defence Force (PDF), the People’s Defence Team and the All Burma Students Democratic Front jointly carried out the assault. The military responded by sending two fighter jets to bomb Moe Tar Lay at around 4pm, killing seven locals and injuring more than 30.
The next day, as clashes escalated, junta aircraft attacked the area three times between 10am and 2:30pm, according to a member of the Katha PDF who spoke to Myanmar Now from the frontline.
He noted that a helicopter and a jet surveyed the area until late in the afternoon.
“We are assuming that they were looking for something as they were just hovering around without firing. It appeared that they were looking for their people to rescue,” he explained.
Heavy artillery was also fired by the military in the direction of Moe Tar Lay.
Although local media reported that a Myanmar army tactical officer was killed at the site, Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify his death.
The frontline Katha PDF member said that as of last Friday, the resistance had suffered one casualty in the episode of fighting, and saw one of its members injured.
Thousands of residents from Moe Tar Lay and neighbouring Sin Gon Taing and Tut Kone fled their homes during the fighting and took refuge in Katha town.
Elsewhere in Katha, the PDF clashed with a military column near Alel Kyun on January 19, according to a man from the area, who said that the junta forces torched the village, forcing its residents and those from the nearby communities of Than Taung and Pyin Htaung Gyi to flee.
Attacks from guerrilla forces based in the Sagaing townships of Katha and Htigyaing have been increasing as the military council relies on the Ayeyarwady River—which runs through the region—to transport arms, ammunition, supplies and reinforcements north to Kachin State.
Within January 15 – 21, the Military junta did 6 times airstrikes in Sagaing, Magway Region, Kayin state. They used 500 lb burning bombs that destroyed houses and civilians. They relocated 700 prisoners and 3 political prisoners from Insion Prison to others.
Junta forces have razed most of the village, including a century-old place of worship, in a series of raids and arson attacks carried out over the past year
Regime troops torched a 129-year-old Catholic church and most remaining houses in the predominantly Catholic village of Chan Thar in Sagaing Region last week—their fourth arson attack on the village since last year.
A column of some 80 soldiers moved north from Depayin Township into Ye-U Township in two separate detachments on January 13 and 14, according to local defence teams.
The soldiers raided and torched several villages in Ye-U Township, including Chan Thar, before advancing across the Muu River into Khin-U Township on January 15, the teams said.
In a January 14 raid, one of the junta detachments destroyed Chan Thar’s Assumption Church, built in 1894, and at least 120 of the village’s houses.
“Nothing much is left of the church as they torched every major building. They even destroyed the prayer hall and the buildings for the nuns and the priest,” said James, a member of a local resistance force.
Before it became a target of junta attacks, Chan Thar had more than 500 houses. The village, which is located about 10km west of the town of Ye-U, is predominantly Catholic, with a Buddhist minority.
The village is one of several in Sagaing Region settled by Portuguese traders and adventurers in the 17th century. The settlers married into the local population, founded families, and passed down their religious heritage to their descendants, who still inhabit the area.
The church seen after the fire (Supplied)
Junta forces had targeted Chan Thar before last week. Between May and December 2022, soldiers set fire to at least 250 houses in a series of increasingly destructive arson attackson the village.
“They have raided over 30 times now and this is the fourth time our village has been torched,” said a villager in Chan Thar who asked to remain anonymous. “Hundreds of houses have already been destroyed and essentially nothing is left of the village.”
Chan Thar residents had not expected the military to carry out another arson attack so soon, the villager said.
“It hadn’t been long since they left the village, so we didn’t think they’d come back this soon. They are deliberately conducting these attacks in order to oppress and kill civilians,” he added.
Chan Thar residents, who fled during the attack, reportedly attempted to resettle in the village after the junta column left. Locals from other villages raided by the junta columns in Ye-U Township have been displaced indefinitely, according to local defence teams.
Regime forces have ruthlessly targeted villages in Ye-U Township in recent months in attempts to subdue armed resistance forces. Twenty-eight civilians were massacred in Mone Taing Pin, another village in Ye-U Township, in May of last year.
BANGKOK, THAILAND —
Indonesia is under increasing pressure to use its new one-year role as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to isolate Myanmar’s junta in a bid to end its bloody crackdown on pro-democracy opponents, analysts say.
But experts say reaching a consensus among the regional bloc remains a challenge in an area where Myanmar’s military still draws diplomatic cover from neighboring nations, as violence shows no signs of abating nearly two years after the February 2021 coup.
In its annual World Report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch flagged human rights abuses in Myanmar, also known as Burma, as one of Asia’s worst flashpoints.
Report authors say 16,000 people have been arbitrarily jailed for demonstrating in favor of a return to democracy, which ended when the military junta toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
An estimated 2,300 civilians have been killed in clashes with the military or airstrikes as the junta seeks to squash a sprawling rebellion, while the junta has also returned to the use of the death penalty after three decades.
“We urge Indonesia to use its ASEAN chairmanship effectively to resolve the crisis in Myanmar,” Elaine Pearson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, told reporters in Jakarta Thursday.
“The world’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows what is possible when the world acts in unison.”
In 2021, Myanmar, an ASEAN member since 1997, agreed to a five-point plan to end the crisis, including ending the violence “immediately,” establishing a peaceful dialogue with opponents and allowing the ASEAN chair to appoint a special envoy.
But Myanmar’s junta, whose representatives have been barred from the bloc’s high-level meetings since the coup, has failed to abide by the agreement made with its regional counterparts.
Analysts say that has left a conundrum for the new ASEAN chair, Indonesia: Continue to let Myanmar dictate its terms of engagement with the region or pressure the junta into ending its campaign of violence.
“We’re looking to Indonesia to rise to that challenge … will it be easy? Of course not, knowing principles of non-interference,” Pearson said.
ASEAN operates on a principle of cross-border non-interference—a value reflecting a politically complex region that spans communist dictatorships (Laos, Vietnam), military-steered quasi-democracies (Thailand, Cambodia) and Muslim-majority democracies (Malaysia, Indonesia).
“So, to do this will require a lot of attention from [Indonesian Foreign Minister] Retno Marsudi and I really hope for the sake of the people of Myanmar that Indonesia does rise to that challenge.”
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has repeatedly called for an end to bloodshed, leading the most vocal criticism of Myanmar’s junta within a regional bloc more prone to tepid statements on the internal affairs of member states.
Reputation on the line
Experts say the rebellion against Myanmar’s junta is fast lurching toward an outright civil war, which will have ramifications for all of Southeast Asia, possibly marring ASEAN’s credibility and threatening a dangerous spillover of instability.
“As its biggest and most consequential member, Indonesia’s chairmanship is ASEAN’s best hope to rein in Myanmar’s bloody spiral from military coup to civil war,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of International Relations at Chulalongkorn University.
“But it will be a daunting task because the Myanmar junta has been intransigent, so far taking ASEAN for a ride.”
Political fragmentation within the ASEAN bloc makes it difficult to achieve a firm position on Myanmar.
Thailand’s military-backed rulers—who last seized power from an elected government in their country in 2014—share a long-established relationship with Myanmar’s junta and its leader, Min Aung Hlaing, complicating any moves to pressure the army into ending the violence.
Even as efforts to isolate Myanmar diplomatically gathered pace late last year, Thailand hosted Myanmar’s foreign minister.
“It was very disconcerting and kind of undermined the effort to put more pressure on Myanmar,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. “It sent the wrong signal.”
Some analysts say Thailand’s position is nuanced, subject to instability and refugee flows along its border with Myanmar.
“Thailand does not want to see the collapse of Myanmar,” said Bangkok-based Kavi Chongkittavorn, an ASEAN expert. “Thailand would be the most affected by the ongoing quagmire. Bangkok has been using quiet diplomacy—not silent diplomacy—to engage the junta.”
Yet without a strong line by ASEAN, the violence will continue weakening the regional bloc, says Thitinan, suggesting “actionable threats of suspension” are among the tools Indonesia must consider using as ASEAN chair.
“If the Myanmar crisis does not improve, ASEAN will be further marginalized in the eyes of the international community,” he said.