Anti-junta forces in central Myanmar attacked a 50-vehicle military convoy Tuesday, killing more than 40 soldiers and injuring 30 others, members of the militia told RFA.
The Yaw Defense Force (YDF), one of many People’s Defense Force (PDF) militia groups that sprung up to resist the military after it ousted the country’s democratically elected government in a coup d’état on Feb. 1, told RFA that in the attack they used a series of 14 remote control landmines near Gangaw township in the Magway region, along the Gangaw-Kalay Highway, which connects Magway with the western Chin state and northern Sagaing region.
“The Gangaw-Kalay Highway is a strategic route, and it would be difficult for the military if this road would be cut off… They would have to send food and supplies by air,” a member of the YDF told RFA’s Myanmar Service Wednesday.
“When the rains are gone, they won’t be able to use the waterways because the rivers will be dried up. So they need this road to go up into the mountains of Chin state,” the YDF member said.
RFA was not able to independently verify the exact number of casualties in the attack.
Junta spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun confirmed to RFA that a convoy was attacked with landmines near in Gangaw township but said that only two vehicles were damaged, and a few soldiers were injured.
Nearby residents told RFA that fighting between the military and the YDF and its allies had intensified in recent days.
Sources close to the military last week told RFA that the junta had been sending armored vehicles, artillery, and attack helicopters to its forces in Gagnaw in hopes of gaining a tactical advantage.
Though the Gangaw-Kalay Highway is normally very busy, a resident of Gangaw told RFA on condition of anonymity that fighting caused traffic to come to a complete standstill.
“We heard they are conducting a military operation along Kalay-Gangaw road… The pressure is on the PDFs because of the large presence of troops in the area, there are frequent clashes. Travelling in the area is difficult now as cars are not allowed to leave the city,” said the Gagnaw resident.
She said the flow of goods has been disrupted and commodity prices have skyrocketed. Living conditions have deteriorated and businesses have been shuttered.
Fighting has also intensified in neighboring Kalay in the Sagaing region.
The Kalay PDF said nine government soldiers died on October 4 when the militias attacked a convoy of 10 military vehicles which had stopped near a crossing at the Pan Mon Chaung Bridge to search for mines.
A Kalay resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity said junta troops have now set up checkpoints and sentry posts all along Gangaw-Kalay Road, and more are coming in large numbers from the Magway region, forcing residents to flee the heavy fighting.
“A lot of military vehicles are coming towards Gangaw. The whole population is holding its breath and waiting, as the junta appears to be set to take total control of Kalay-Gangaw region,” the Kalay resident said.
“People are all scared and worried about the increasing military presence in our area. The situation is very bad. If they stay here, it will be very difficult for us,” the resident said.
Residents in the Sagaing and Magway regions and Chin State are panicking as the military has shut down internet access in the area and is sending in massive reinforcements. They fear a major operation is looming over the horizon, and local PDF groups are also preparing for the impending battles, sources said.
Military spokesman Maj.Gen. Zaw Min Tun confirmed that the military was taking control of the area due to the rising number of casualties.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.