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Intensified fighting drives 10,000 from their homes in Myanmar’s Kayin state — Radio Free Asia

More than 10,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes in southern Myanmar’s Kayin state amid intensified fighting this week between junta troops and ethnic Karen armed groups, local residents told RFA.

The recent round of fighting erupted on Monday, Jan. 23, when junta forces clashed with a joint resistance force from the Karen National Liberation Army and the Kaw Thoo Lei Army, which have been fighting against the military’s seizure of power on Feb. 1, 2021, nearly two years ago.

As the fighting continued Wednesday, thousands fled Kyondoe city and 14 nearby villages, forcing many to set up makeshift shelters in nearby jungles. 

Although soldiers reportedly left the area Wednesday morning, residents said they still do not feel safe returning to their homes. 

“I think we should stay in hiding for the next four or five days because we can still hear the sounds of heavy artillery,” a resident  told Radio Free Asia, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “Even if we can return to our village, we should leave our children behind and only the adults will have to go and check the situation as we can’t say if the battles are over or not.”

He added that those fleeing their homes are struggling to find food, and many are fearing for their children’s health amid the cold temperatures in the jungle. 

Junta troops used heavy fire artillery to target villages near Kyondoe city, leaving several homes destroyed in the aftermath of the fighting. 

Many villagers will not be able to return to their homes because they were burned down, a Kyondoe resident said.

“It’s going to take a long time for them to return home. Since their houses have been burned and destroyed, they won’t be able to return,” he said. “They will have to stay in our town as war refugees until the war is over.”

Residents of Kan Ni village, Kawkareik township, Kayin state, Myanmar, fleeing from the fighting on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, Credit: Dawna Travelling Guest

Since the coup, several armed groups have taken up arms either against or in support of the junta. Residents said that a pro-junta Karen splinter army, known as the Border Guard Force, also set fire to the town of Nyaung Yeik Thar, which lies on the east bank of Kyondoe city.

An officer with a KTLA battalion said that his group will issue a report that let residents know which areas are safe to return to. 

The KTLA also claimed that the military lost more than 100 soldiers during the fighting and 40 more were left wounded, compared to three deaths reported by the ethnic armed groups. RFA was unable to independently verify these numbers. 

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, nearly 100,000 residents have fled their homes in Karen State alone due to conflicts and insecurity between Feb. 2021 and Dec. 2022. 

Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Edited by Nawar Nemeh and Malcolm Foster.

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