Fighting Intensifies in Kutkai

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Clashes between the Burma Army and an alliance of three ethnic armed groups intensified around the town of Kutkai in northern Shan State on Monday, days after a stray artillery shell killed five local civilians.

According to people living in the area, the Burma Army has been circling the town and firing at the combined force of troops from the Arakan Army (AA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

“Two combat helicopters were flying around the Kutkai area for about half an hour. Then they fired at three or four targets. I was just outside of town at the time, so I could clearly see them shooting from the combat helicopters. They were firing towards Ward 8, just on the edge of town,” a local source told NMG.

Those attacks took place at around 4pm on Monday, the source said, adding that the targets appeared to be near Hutkai’s Bible school, the Kabar Aye Pagoda, and the village of Huay Kok.

The Humanitarian Strategic Team-Northern Shan State (HST-NSS), a local relief group, said that it would go to Huay Kok to help villagers find shelter in a secure area.

“It’s really difficult to find a place for displaced people in Kutkai. There are not enough places for them to go. All of the monasteries in Kutkai are so full that the monks cannot meditate. I don’t know what to do for them,” HST-NSS spokesperson Mine Mai told NMG.

Rumors in recent days that the three ethnic armies might try to take control of Kutkai have added to the anxiety of local residents. As a precaution against any escalation in the conflict, most schools and shops have been closed in the town.

On Saturday, as the Burma Army announced that it would extend its unilateral ceasefire in the area, an artillery shell landed on a house in the village of Maw Heik, just outside of Kutkai, killing five civilians and wounding three others.

A joint force of troops from the AA, MNDAA and TNLA attacked the Defense Services Technological Academy in Pyin Oo Lwin and army and police camps in northern Shan State on August 15. Since then, clashes in the area have intensified.

Local civil society organizations have called on both sides in the conflict to reduce clashes and avoid civilian targets, in accordance with international military codes of conduct.