By THE IRRAWADDY 8 October 2021
The Myanmar military has deployed at least four battalions of reinforcements – around 3,000 soldiers – to the country’s most restive regions to conduct clearance operations against civilian resistance forces, according to local civilian armed groups and a source close to the military.
In addition, one of the junta’s most notorious commanders – Lieutenant General Than Hlaing, the chief of the Myanmar Police and the regime’s Deputy Home Affairs Minister – has also been assigned to the military’s North West Command based in Monywa, Sagaing Region.
Sagaing, along with neighboring Magwe Region and Chin State, is where junta forces are facing the fiercest opposition from civilian resistance forces.
Lt-Gen Than Hlaing, along with another Lieutenant General, will lead the military’s operations against local People’s Defense Forces (PDF), a former army captain, who defected from the military after the February 1 coup, told The Irrawaddy.
Brigadier General Phyo Thant, the former commander of North West Command, was reportedly detained by the military regime earlier this week, after his plan to defect and take refuge in an area controlled by an ethnic armed group was exposed, according to a source close to the military.
Rumors are already circulating that the Brig-Gen was tortured to death during his interrogation.
The new mission comes after the equivalent of two infantry battalions of junta soldiers have been killed in Sagaing, Magwe and Chin State in the last four months alone. Between June and September, 1,512 regime troops died in fighting with civilian resistance forces in those areas, according to Myanmar’s parallel National Unity Government.
Lt-Gen Than Hlaing has earned notoriety for commanding lethal crackdowns against peaceful anti-coup protesters and striking civil servants.
One of his victims was his own brother. Lt-Gen Than Hlaing’s younger brother Ko Soe Moe Hlaing, a veteran pro-democracy activist, was tortured to death in May while in military custody in Bago Region.
An estimated 1,000 junta reinforcements were deployed last week to Shwe Taung Oo, a residential area for former military personnel located near Monywa, a leader of the Kani-PDF told The Irrawaddy.
Another 100 junta troops deployed four days ago at a monastery near the border with Yinmabin Township, Sagaing Region. Residents from nearby villages have fled their homes out of fear at the presence of regime troops. The soldiers are believed to be preparing to raid Kani Township, added the Kani-PDF leader.
“We have already planned for potential fierce fighting with the regime. We youths are prepared to die in battle as we can’t live under military dictatorship anymore,” the Kani-PDF fighter told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
Although there have been no clashes in recent days, junta forces are still raiding throughout Sagaing and Magwe.
On Friday morning, 100 regime troops searching the forest in Magwe’s Gangaw Township for resistance fighters opened fire randomly, a leader of the Yaw Defense Force (YDF) told The Irrawaddy.
Some 500 junta reinforcements have deployed to Gangaw and hundreds of them are searching villages in the north of the township for PDF’s. Helicopters are reportedly supplying them with heavy weapons and ammunition.
On Thursday, junta troops used 15 detained villagers as human shields while marching through the north of Gangaw Township, a result of regime soldiers being ambushed with landmines so often.
Over 40 soldiers were killed on Tuesday, and 30 injured and five vehicles and an armored car damaged, when the YDF ambushed a military convoy of 50 vehicles travelling from Monywa via the Pale-Gangaw Highway.
A video shows the convoy being attacked with landmines detonated by YDF fighters.
“We will respond as best we can if they [junta forces] raid us,” said the leader of the YDF.
Kale-PDF claimed to have killed 12 junta soldiers with landmines on Thursday in two ambushes targeting a regime convoy travelling on the Kale-Gangaw Highway in Sagaing Region.
On Monday, the Pale-PDF ambushed a military convoy of more than 80 vehicles, including armored cars, carrying junta reinforcements from Monywa to Pale Township in Sagaing Region.
Some 500 regime reinforcements have also arrived in Pinlebu Township, Sagaing Region since late September, after junta forces suffered almost 40 casualties in two intense firefights with the local PDF.
Around 300 troops have been deployed in rural areas of the township and over 9,000 residents of 10 villages have fled their homes due to junta raids, the spokesperson of the Pinlebu-PDF told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
The Pinlebu-PDF said it is concerned about the prospect of villagers being caught in the crossfire in clashes between civilian resistance fighters and junta forces.
Internet and mobile phone services have been blocked by the regime since the second week of September in most townships in the areas where PDF’s are most active.
Junta forces have used heavy explosives, jet fighters and helicopters in the clashes with civilian resistance fighters, as well as burning down villages and bombarding the residential areas of towns.