Residents of the remote town of Putao in northern Kachin State fear clashes and many have already fled their homes after the regime mobilised hundreds of troops against Battalion 4 of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
The junta is trying to drive the KIA and the People’s Defence Force (PDF) out of the area in order to gain control of the Myitkyina – Sumprabum – Putao road, which is held by the groups resisting the military regime.
A column of the regime en route to Putao left Myitkyina on 15 March and two hundred soldiers from Infantry Battalions 137 and 138 from Putao and Machanbaw towns were sent to provide security along the way.
On 20 March, the three military columns arrived between Lon Shar Yang and Hpert Mer villages after the Myitkyina column lost many soldiers in ambushes by the KIA and the PDF.
A local, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, told KNG that the Kachin groups attacked the column coming from the capital of Kachin State six times, including near Kawah Pang, Sup Hker, Mong Htawng and Tayang Zup villages in Sumprabum Township.
Another local source, who also requested anonymity, said IB-138 soldiers in Mularshidee fired artillery shells at villages at 10pm on 20 March because they suspected the resistance fighers were hiding in the surrounding jungles.
One shell hit a bamboo grove at the entrance to Hpert Mer, another shell landed nearby and one near Lon Shar Yang. Some homes in Hpert Mer were hit, but no one was hurt.
In the first two weeks of 2022, fighting broke out between the groups near Lon Shar Yang and Hpert Mer, but this was the first time this year that the regime had attempted to wrestle control of the area from the armed Kachin groups.
Since 2 March, the Kachin groups have restricted traffic on the road between 6am and 6pm, asking lorry drivers to keep their windows down when passing through checkpoints and to cover their loads with a transparent tarpaulin so that soldiers can see what they’re transporting.