Rebels claim 2 junta bases in central Myanmar, taking 120 surrenderers

Anti-junta groups say they have taken control over a river where junta used to carry their supplies.
By RFA Staff
2024.04.09
Rebels claim 2 junta bases in central Myanmar, taking 120 surrenderers The National Unity Government’s Ministry of Defense displays weapons seized from the two junta battalions between Paungbyin and Homalin townships on April 8, 2024.
National Unity Government Ministry of Defense

Updated April 9, 2024, 04:37 p.m. ET.

Over 100 junta troops surrendered after guerilla-style militias captured two of their camps in central Myanmar, a militia member told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday.

The surrender took place as more than 60 junta troops fled across the border into China, days after rebel soldiers assaulted the town of Lwegel in northern Myanmar's Kachin state.

The captured camps in central Myanmar are located between two townships in Sagaing region, where anti-junta sentiment is high and indiscriminate attacks by the Myanmar military have been frequent since the army seized power in 2021. 

Seven combined anti-junta armed groups, including Paungbyin People’s Defense Force and Homalin People’s Defense Force, carried out the most recent capture on Sunday.

A member of the militia said the People’s Defense Forces now control the Chindwin River between two townships, strategic land that the junta used to target villages. The river was previously used by junta forces to transport supplies and fuel further attacks on villages situated nearby.

“These camps and battalions are connected to Homalin and Paungbyin [townships]. Now, we can completely control the waters of the Chindwin River,” he told RFA, declining to be named for security reasons. “From that place, the military could attack villages in Paungbyin. But that area is now in our hands.”

Some junta soldiers were trapped and later rescued by a Mi-17 helicopter from the junta air force base in Homalin, he added. The People’s Defense Force seized Light Infantry Battalions 396 and 370, as well as taking 120 surrenderers prisoner out of the 300 junta troops present.

Troops stationed across Sagaing have frequently conducted attacks across the region and have been accused of gruesome assaults and baseless arrests of civilians, including women and children, people with disabilities and the elderly. Sagaing was also cited as the region with the highest rate of body-burning, a recurrent tactic by junta troops.

RFA contacted Sagaing region’s junta spokesperson Nyunt Win Aung regarding the bases’ capture, but he did not respond.

Troops flee to China

Meanwhile, the more than 60 junta troops who remained in Kachin state's Lwegel township after the ethnic Kachin Independence Army, or KIA, assaulted the urban center last week have fled across the border into China's Yunnan province, residents told RFA on Tuesday.

On April 4, the KIA captured part of Lwegel, a town nearly 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of its headquarters in Lai Zar.

Rebel fighters first entered the town on March 29, prompting civil servants and some junta troops from the military's No. 142 Light Infantry Battalion to flee, while others surrendered to the KIA. By Monday, the KIA had completely surrounded the town, but the remaining troops used jungle trails to escape and cross into China, residents said.

"They all abandoned their outpost and entered Chinese territory between 9 and 10 p.m. last night," said one resident who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. "The KIA troops have seized the military base. We have learnt that there were 63 [junta] soldiers there. They secretly used a back route to leave their camp and walked to the Chinese border.”

Another resident of Lwegel said the junta troops had "abandoned their weapons" before crossing the border and that the KIA had recovered them.

Residents said that family members of junta troops were included in the group that crossed into China, although RFA was unable to independently verify the claim.

Attempts by RFA to contact the Chinese Embassy in Yangon about the fleeing soldiers went unanswered Tuesday, as did efforts to reach junta spokesperson Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun.

'They didn't fight back'

Fighting between the military and anti-junta forces was particularly fierce in Kachin in March. Earlier this month, the KIA's political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization, said that its troops had captured more than 60 junta camps in the state.

Military and political commentator Hla Kyaw Zaw noted that the troops who fled to China are just the latest to cross the border amid anti-junta offensives, following others in Kayin and Rakhine states.

"They didn't fight back, just as in other places," he said. "Junta soldiers are running away in many battles. It shows that the Myanmar military is gradually collapsing.”

Translated by Aung Naing for RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan, Taejun Kang and Joshua Lipes.

This story has been updated to include reports of junta soldiers fleeing into Chinese territory following the capture of Lwegel township in Kachin state.

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