More than 100 people remained trapped in two Buddhist compounds on the outskirts of a village in Myanmar’s Shan state on Tuesday after the military took advantage of a lull in fighting with anti-junta forces to set up positions in the area, sources told RFA Burmese.

The group of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and pagoda caretakers are being held at the Set Taw Yar Hill Top Pagoda and Mway Taw Pagoda Monastery compounds in Taunggyi district’s Moe Bye township, said a resident, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. They were taken captive on Monday morning, when some 100 junta troops entered the township and established a camp.

“People there have had their phones taken away and they have not been allowed to leave the compounds yet,” the resident said.

“There’s no fighting yet, but we don’t know how long it will last. The lull might be broken tonight or tomorrow. The situation is very tense. The army has taken up positions and [anti-junta] forces are also moving around. It’s hard to say when clashes might occur.”

The IDPs had fled their homes in Pwe Kone Ward No. 3 during fighting between the military and anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitaries earlier this month, the resident said. The 10 pagoda caretakers are from Zay Kone Ward and had been living at the Mway Taw Pagoda Monastery compound as guards.

From Sept. 8-12, junta troops squared off with local PDF units and ethnic Karenni armed groups in a series of intense battles in and around Moe Bye, a township situated along Shan state’s eastern border with Kayah state. According to the Moe Bye PDF, the troops called in airstrikes during the fighting, while the military’s 422 Light Infantry Battalion, stationed two miles away, attacked with heavy weapons.

The PDF said two of its fighters were killed and six seriously wounded during the five days of fighting, while around 50 suffered minor injuries. It claimed that more than 60 junta troops were killed and “many injured” over the same period.

RFA could not independently verify the number of casualties reported by the PDF.

Residents of the area told RFA that junta forces re-entered Moe Bye with reinforcements on Monday, around one week after the fighting ended.

Aid workers told RFA that five civilians were killed and 15 others wounded in Moe Bye by military shelling during the clashes. The Moe Bye General Hospital is closed at present and the wounded are being treated at nearby clinics, they added.

A spokesman for the Moe Bye Rescue Team, a local aid group, said the majority of the town’s 25,000 people had fled to Pekon township — around 10 miles to the north — and other areas in southern Shan, as well as to Loikaw, the capital of Kayah state.

“About half of them fled to the Kayah region, east of the town,” said the spokesman, who also declined to be named.

“I believe some two-thirds of the population has fled the town,” he said, adding that the exact number of evacuees remains unclear.

As of Tuesday, the junta had yet to release any information regarding the clashes in Moe Bye. Attempts by RFA to contact the junta’s spokesman in Shan state went unanswered.

Situation tense

A fighter with the Karenni People’s Defense Force told RFA that while there had been no recent clashes, the situation remained tense.

“[The military] re-entered with … two tanks from two sides, from the Wari supply station, where the first battle took place [last week], as well as from Pekon township,” he said.

“Some of them were wearing civilian clothes and others were in uniform. They have set up positions on both sides of the main road in the area and it’s a very tense situation.”

According to a Sept. 10 statement from the Progressive Karenni People’s Force (PKPF), there are 16 PDF groups with a strength of nearly 16,000 across the border from Moe Bye township in Kayah. The statement said that the junta has about 7,500 troops in the area, including 18 battalions and three artillery regiments.

Than Soe Naing, a political observer, said the junta is trying to regain control of southern Shan state, including the Moe Bye Dam, which holds water for the Baluchaung Hydroelectric Power Station. PDF forces took control of the dam following the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup.

“The Karenni Army and the PDF have control of much of Kayah state and military tensions are high,” he said.

“I believe [the junta is] trying to get back control of this region because … [doing so] can have repercussions for the whole country.”

The PKPF said in a statement on Sept. 1 that there had been 454 battles and 158 airstrikes in Kayah state since the coup last year, resulting in the death or capture of 261 civilians.

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