Myanmar’s ruling junta has cut internet service to the country’s Chin state and neighboring Sagaing and Magway regions amid a surge in reinforcements sent to crack down on popular militias resisting military rule in the embattled areas of western Myanmar, sources in the country told RFA.
The military now appears to be planning major attacks against local People’s Defense Forces that have clashed with government troops for months, local residents and sources close to the military told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Government forces have been strengthened in Matupi and other townships in Chin state’s capital Hakha, said a member of the Chin Defense Force (CDF), an armed group formed to combat Myanmar’s military in the western state.
“As far as we know, reinforcements are being sent to the Matupi side and Hakha on the Chin front. Planes are frequently being seen flying towards Mindat, with some also flying toward Samee,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“Some reinforcements are being sent to Kyauktu which is only 18 miles from Mindat. We have heard that more troops have also arrived in Hakha,” he said.
Local residents said that internet service has been cut, blocking all information sent to and from Sagaing and Magway regions and in Chin, where resistance to military rule is strong.
Myanmar’s 101st Light Infantry Division headquarters based in Pakokku in Magway has now been relocated to Matupi township in Chin state, along with hundreds of troops from Bago region and Shan state, sources close to the military said, adding that families of the soldiers were also moved during the relocation.
Armored vehicles, Mi-35 attack helicopters, and howitzers with a range of up to 30 miles were also delivered to the 101st Division’s new headquarters in Chin, with attack helicopters and armored vehicles also being sent to battalions in Magway’s Gangaw area, where fighting has recently intensified, they said.
RFA has not been able to independently confirm reports of troop movements, and calls seeking comment from military spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Htun rang unanswered.
A local resident in Magway noted troop movements on the region’s Gangaw-Kalay road, along with reports that soldiers were raiding villages and setting fire to houses there, saying, “The road was not open to other traffic, so they were the only ones on the road.”
“Local truck drivers have not been able to return to their homes, as they are scared that the troops may commandeer their vehicles,” the source said.
“The main problem we are facing now is fuel prices, but food prices have also skyrocketed, and people in the village are afraid of informers and the [pro-junta] Pyu Saw Htee militia.”
“We are all living in fear,” he said.
Another resident pointed to reports of troop reinforcements in the Sagaing region, a theater of anti-junta combat since mid-year, indicating a major operation may be launched in coming weeks to crack down on units of the local People’s Defense Force (PDF).
“Military forces have now doubled in every township in the area in the past three or four days, so that if there were 50 policemen or 50 soldiers before, there are now a hundred more,” the source said.
“We heard the operation might begin on Oct. 9, but right now there is fighting with the [ethnic] Kachin Independence Army in Katha district and Kawlin district, and so they are trying to crush the resistance beforehand to prevent this from spilling over to this side.”
Released after ransom is paid
In a wave of arrests from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, Myanmar security forces arrested 50 young men in Chin state’s Hakha region on suspicion of membership in the Chin Defense Force, releasing them only after the payment by family members of large sums of money, local sources said.
CDF fighters had stopped attacking government troops at the request of local residents who feared retaliation, but government troops and police began on Sept. 29 to stop pedestrians at several intersections in the town, searching mobile phones and taking many of those they had stopped into custody, one local resident said.
Police later warned detainees not to say they had been physically abused in custody or that ransom had been paid to secure their release, said Aung Lin, one of the young men who was arrested and later freed.
“One of their contacts told us to offer them money before any questioning began. I didn’t pay them at first, and they said, ‘We’ll see what happens after the investigations begin.'”
“They were scolding and yelling at us all the time and telling us to pay the money,” Aung Lin said.
“Finally, I called my family, and two hours later I was freed. They told us not to tell anybody about the payments or to say we had been tortured,” he said.
Military spokesman Zaw Min Htun denied that any arrests had been made, but added, “There may have been some security checks, and people may have been questioned.”
Complaints of unjust detention could always be referred to town elders or to “groups we have formed,” Zaw Min Htun said.
“You can always complain through them,” he added.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.