Myanmar junta troops have retaken Momeik (Mongmit) in northern Shan State after the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and allied resistance forces retreated from the town. At least eight residents were reportedly killed and houses were torched as junta soldiers reoccupied the town.
A combined force of the KIA, All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) and People’s Defense Force attacked the town on Jan. 18. They announced that they had taken control of the town on Jan. 25 after defeating junta positions including the police station. They retreated the same evening, however, and junta troops returned to torch houses in the town, said residents who had fled.
“Junta troops are now in the town and burning houses. They have arrested residents who stayed behind. They also arrested about five residents who returned to check their houses on Sunday. Those who went back to feed animals have also been arrested,” said one resident.
Regime troops are seeking to sow division in the town by forcing Muslim detainees to burn houses in Momeik, according to a volunteer helping displaced people.
“An escapee reported that junta soldiers told detainees to burn houses. They told Muslims to set fire to houses with torches, threatening to kill them if they refused. They took photographs. I believe the regime will use the photos to spread propaganda and stir religious hatred by claiming Muslims are torching houses and religious buildings,” the volunteer said.
Junta troops blockaded the town and killed some eight residents, including Muslims, said a town resident helping displaced people. Many residents had fled before the fighting. Those who stayed found themselves trapped and were either killed or arrested by junta soldiers, he said.
“We offered to transport them out of the town but they were unwilling to leave their homes. They thought the military would not harm them if they stayed indoors. After what happened, we can only feel sorry for them. We learned that around eight people, including four Muslims, were killed,” he said.
Junta newspapers claimed that the regime had retaken the town on Saturday after launching a counteroffensive against the KIA, TNLA and PDF groups.
However, that claim is disputed.
“KIA troops were not defeated but rather retreated, allowing regime soldiers to retake the town. Momeik has been battered by junta air and artillery strikes. Residents are furious that the KIA retreated from the town,” said one Momeik resident.
Junta media have accused the KIA and its allies of torching religious buildings, schools, houses and healthcare facilities while they were in Momeik.
The Irrawaddy was unable to reach the resistance groups for comment.
Some two-thirds of Momeik have been destroyed while over 40 civilians trapped in the fighting were killed, according to local community organizations that cremated their remains on a football pitch.
The major market in the town was incinerated by junta bombing raids.
Momeik is bordered by Kachin State’s Mansi Township to the north, Mandalay Region’s Mogoke Township to the south, and Thabbeikyin Township to the west. Several ethnic armed groups are active in Momeik.