Junta troops and allied Shanni Nationalities Army (SNA) have clashed with People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) in Homalin Township, northern Sagaing Region, forcing residents to flee.
Fighting broke out in rural Homalin when a combined force of regime and SNA troops attacked the Kachin PDF (KPDF) and Homalin PDF (HPDF) in Pin Kote village on November 11, according to the PDFs.
Two columns comprising more than 400 troops from the SNA and the regime’s Light Infantry Battalion 222 attacked the resistance groups, HPDF members on the front line told The Irrawaddy. The clashes continued until Nov. 16.
HPDF spokesman Bo Moe Gyo said SNA troops attacked after the PDFs took control of Pin Kote, where the SNA had been extorting money.
“Pin Kote is their main source of tax revenues. But when Pin Kote became part of our territory, they could not collect tax from the village anymore. They [SNA] were not happy with that. Also, we clashed with them recently, so they decided to retaliate,” he said.
The PDFs said more than 70 regime and SNA troops were killed in the clashes. The SNA said over 60 resistance fighters were wounded. The Irrawaddy could not independently verify their reports.
One civilian was injured in her shoulder by regime troops’ fire while about 170 other residents of Pin Kote and neighboring Nat Nan village fled their homes, a Pin Kote villager told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity.
“The displaced people are facing severe hardship. They need food and clothes. Most of the displaced are women, children, and elderly people. Some are suffering partial paralysis from stroke.
SNA spokesman Colonel Sai Aung Mein claimed PDFs and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) troops had invaded SNA-controlled territory and bullied residents.
“For the sake of regional security and our people’s safety, we don’t want trouble with any group in the current political crisis. So, we try not to provoke anyone. But they entered our territory and even killed monks. We can’t tolerate this anymore. That’s why we attacked,” said the SNA spokesman, referring to the murder of a prominent Shanni Buddhist monk in Banmauk in September.
The SNA and ethnic Shanni organizations accuse the KIA and PDFs of killing the monk, who was abbot of Naung Pat village monastery in Banmauk.
The KIA rejected the accusation, adding it had no policy to kill faith leaders and members of literature and culture committees.
The SNA’s Col Sai Aung Mein claimed KIA and PDF troops deployed in Pei Gon village on the border of Banmauk, Homalin and Phaungpyin townships attacked the SNA base in Pin Kote.
He accused KIA and PDF troops of beating Pin Kote villagers as he sought to justify the SNA’s attack. The spokesman denied the SNA was cooperating with regime troops.
The HPDF said bodies of both SNA fighters and junta soldiers had been found on the battleground, proving their alliance.
However, casualties among the SNA were higher because it forcibly recruits young villagers, the HPDF’s Bo Moe Gyo said.
“The SNA does not care if they are willing or not. They force the unwilling recruits on to the front line by threatening the safety of their families,” he said, adding that the clashes took place in the recruits’ villages.
The SNA was founded in July 1989 on the India-Myanmar border with the aim of securing political equality, self-determination and a Shanni State for the indigenous ethnic population.
The armed group is active in Hpakant, Indawgyi and other parts of Kachin State as well as Homalin, Pinleby, Banmauk, Hamti, Phaunggyi and Tamu in Sagaing Region.
Military analysts say its four brigades are based in Hkamti, Homalin, Banmauk and between Homalin and Banmauk.