Myanmar’s military regime launched air strikes on Loikaw, the capital of Kayah State, on Saturday and Sunday, forcing thousands of local residents to flee their homes.
Fierce clashes broke out between resistance groups and junta troops in the town on Friday. Residents of at least three of 13 wards in Loikaw have fled since Saturday and more are fleeing, according to humanitarian groups helping the displaced people.
“Around 2,000 people were evacuated on Saturday and Sunday. We evacuated them together with the Red Cross Society. Nearly half of the town has fled the fighting. Though the fighting took place in Mong Lone, Pan Kan and Ywa Tan Shae, people from the other parts of the town have also fled out of fear,” a charity worker told The Irrawaddy on Sunday.
People who remain in the town are staying in their homes, and businesses have also closed, he said. While his group is helping to evacuate displaced people to churches, many others have also fled the town on their own, he said.
“People don’t go out because helicopters were hovering. The town is deserted. Those who were not able to flee in time remain in their homes. But we are evacuating people at their request. We pick them up at their homes when they phone us,” he added.
Six civilians were killed in Friday’s fighting as junta troops attacked civilian targets, said the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF). The following day, the regime shelled several wards in Loikaw as junta jets dropped bombs.
Some residents have fled to Shan State, Mandalay, Naypyitaw and other towns, but some are only taking shelter at local churches in Kayah.
Local administrators in Nyaungshwe in southern Shan State at the border of Kayah State have warned locals not to shelter displaced persons from Kayah, and displaced people were also not allowed to enter Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, according to the Shan State-based news agency Shan Herald.
Junta troops and local People’s Defense Force (PDF) members clashed in Loikaw, and junta helicopters were hovering over the town on Sunday morning.
“Many people remain in the town, though others are fleeing. We have not yet fled. We have packed things up, and got the car ready to flee. If the situation is OK, we will move tomorrow. But we heard gunfire today, and choppers were hovering,” a resident of Mong Lone ward told The Irrawaddy on Sunday.
More than half of Kayah State’s 300,000 population have already been displaced by fighting following the February coup, and the majority of Loikaw’s some 150,000 residents are fleeing the junta’s weekend aerial attacks, according to locals.
A Loikaw resident told The Irrawaddy on Monday that “the town is deserted and many more, including my family, are planning to leave today and tomorrow.”
Junta attacks from the air were also heard in Demoso, Shardaw and Moebye and Pekhon towns. Helicopters could be heard hovering above Hpasawng Township, said the Loikaw resident.
At least 30 junta soldiers including a lieutenant died and many more were injured in Saturday’s fighting, according to the KNDF. The group said it shot down a gunship and destroyed an armored vehicle in the fighting, and also seized weapons and ammunition from the regime.
Junta troops also clashed with resistance groups in Demoso on Sunday, and at least 10 junta soldiers died in the fighting despite air support.
“Some 20 junta soldiers are believed to have been injured, and at least 10 are thought to have died. The regime fired artillery and also carried out aerial attacks. One of our comrades died and three were injured. One of them had to have one of his kidneys removed. He is stable now,” a KPDF spokesman told The Irrawaddy.
Some civilian houses were damaged in the junta shelling and air strikes and junta troops also deliberately set some houses on fire to cremate their colleagues’ bodies, said the spokesman.
“Junta troops burnt the bodies of their fellows in civilian houses. We have found three charred bodies of junta soldiers,” he said.
The KPDF said it had also seized weapons and communications devices from the regime in the Demoso fighting. The military regime, according to Loikaw residents, has intensified its attacks in Loikaw, deploying helicopters to regain road access to other parts of Kayah State via Loikaw. Resistance groups have blocked road access since last month, preventing the regime from sending reinforcements and food supplies.