Surrounded Myanmar junta troops shell civilians, blow bridges in Lashio
Myanmar junta troops in the northern Shan State capital of Lashio are bombarding surrounding villages and communities daily after being surrounded by ethnic armies and allied resistance groups, The Irrawaddy reports.
Junta forces have also destroyed bridges linking Lashio with other towns in the state.
Military units based in Lashio town have been shelling nearby villages for weeks despite facing no attacks from resistance groups, a Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) representative told The Irrawaddy.
The TNLA is part of the Brotherhood Alliance’s Operation 1027 offensive in northern Shan State.
On Sunday, junta troops used explosives to blow up the Ei Naing Bridge just 7.5 kilometers west of Lashio town in a bid to block the advance of TNLA forces. The bridge linked Lashio with three towns – Namtu, Mantong and Namhsan – that were recently seized by the TNLA.
Junta troops also detonated landmines to destroy the strategic Moe Tay Bridge linking Hsipaw and Lashio towns with the three TNLA-occupied towns.
Meanwhile the TNLA seized a sixth town, Mongngaw, in Kyaukme Township, a four-hour drive southwest of Lashio.
“A large number of rebel troops [ethnic and allied resistance forces] are positioned just outside Lashio town. They will definitely attack the town sooner or later. So, military bases here are shelling nearby areas including forests every day,” a civil servant from a junta-run government office in Lashio told The Irrawaddy.
He added that regime troops have also fortified the town against any attack.
The TNLA representative said junta forces had adopted their usual tactic of targeting civilians.
“The regime is intentionally shelling civilian targets and villages amid an absence of clashes with us. This is the junta’s regular strategy. By destroying bridges, the junta is attempting to force people into hardship.”
Junta air and artillery strikes amid the expanding Operation 1027 have killed 130 civilians and wounded over 200 across northern Shan State since mid-December, according to local ethnic organizations and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Over 120,000 civilians have also been displaced by escalating clashes between regime troops and resistance groups.
The Brotherhood Alliance of the TNLA, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army has led coordinated attacks on junta bases and targets in towns including Lashio, while blocking the Mandalay-Lashio-Muse and Mandalay-Lashio-Chin Shwe Haw main trade routes with China since the launch of Operation 1027 on Oct. 27.
In the early days of the operation, resistance forces occupied Hseni town on the Mandalay-Lashio-Muse Highway, 44km north of Lashio town and home to the junta’s Northeastern Military Command Headquarters.
Resistance groups have also taken control of the Mandalay-Lashio-Muse Road between Lashio and the regime garrison town of Pyin Oo Lwin in Mandalay Region.
The blockade means the junta is forced to rely on air transport to supply troops in Lashio with reinforcements and ammunition.
After 69 days of Operation 1027, resistance groups have seized over 300 junta bases and around 10 towns, as well as the vital Myanmar-China trade routes in northern Shan State.
Fighting is ongoing in Kutkai, Nawnghkio, Kyaukme, Hsipaw and Mongmit townships as TNLA and allied Mandalay People’s Defense Forces attack junta bases and targets in northern Shan State, according to the TNLA.
Meanwhile, the MNDAA has occupied most of Laukkai, the capital of Kokang Self-Administered Zone, on the border with China in northern Shan.
Lashio is considered a key target in the resistance’s offensive to take northern Shan State.