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Concentrated SAC attacks along trade highways during Operation 1027 highlight risk of premature CMEC investment

April 11th, 2024  •  Author:   Shan Human Rights Foundation  •  4 minute read
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The concentration of air and artillery attacks by the SAC military regime along the main trade highways in five townships of northern Shan State during Operation 1027 highlights clearly the risks of proceeding prematurely with investment in the China Myanmar Economic Corridor.

Mapping of SAC airstrikes and shelling attacks in Muse, Kutkhai, Hsenwi, Kunlong and Lashio townships from the start of Operation 1027 on October 27, 2023, until the ceasefire between the SAC and the Three Brotherhood Alliance (3BHA) on January 11, 2024, shows that these attacks are concentrated along the Muse-Hsenwi-Lashio highway and the Hsenwi-Chin Shwe Haw highway – the two main trade routes from northern Shan State into China.

The SAC attacks inflicted at least 180 civilian casualties and damaged over 300 buildings in towns and villages along these trade routes in the five townships. Tens of thousands of civilians were displaced, some of whom still do not dare return home for fear that fighting will break out again. The SAC still controls the towns of Lashio and Muse, and remains in active conflict with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which controls a section of the Muse-Hsenwi highway. Civilians in all areas continue to suffer from landmines laid during the recent conflict.

While an agreement was reached between the regime and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) to re-open the Chin Shwe Haw border crossing on March 11, there is no guarantee of security along the highway to Lashio, where fighting broke out between the MNDAA and SAC on March 26. Since the end of March, the SAC has been sending in hundreds of armed reinforcements to Muse and Lashio by helicopter.

Amid the ongoing conflict, it would be extremely risky to proceed with investment to develop the China Myanmar Economic Corridor, in particular the planned Muse-Mandalay high-speed railway, which runs directly through areas of intense SAC bombardment. Yet, according to recent news reports, the SAC regime is moving ahead to seek a loan from China to implement this US$8.9 billion project.

Details of SAC airstrikes, shelling and shooting causing civilian casualties/damage in Muse township during Operation 1027

The 3BHA launched attacks on SAC outposts near the border towns of Panghsai and Mong Ko at the outset of Operation 1027. In response, SAC indiscriminately fired artillery shells from the 105 Mile trade zone towards Panghsai, damaging five houses on October 30 (with one shell landing on the Chinese side of the border in Wanding), and killing one civilian on November 1. This failed to prevent the 3BHA from seizing initial control of Panghsai on November 2; SAC troops then tried to reoccupy Panghsai, leading to SAC shelling again into Panghsai, which killed a civilian on November 19, but the 3BHA managed to regain control of Panghsai on the same day.

Meanwhile, the SAC used airstrikes to try and prevent the 3BHA from seizing Mong Ko. An airstrike early in the morning of November 4 killed five civilians, including three young children, in Shinkyaike village, close to Mong Ko town. However, on November 7, the 3BHA managed to seize control of Mong Ko town.

On November 16, the 3BHA began attacking SAC troops based at the 105 Mile trade zone. The SAC  responded with airstrikes and indiscriminate shelling into surrounding villages as well as into Muse town itself.  Between November 19 and December 11, fifteen civilians in this area were killed and eight injured by SAC air and artillery attacks. Two civilians, a man and a woman, were also shot dead on November 28 by SAC troops as they were trying to escape from 105 Mile village by motorbike. Finally, on December 15, the 3BHA were able to drive SAC troops out of their bases at the 105 Mile village, and seize control of this key trade hub on the Muse-Lashio highway..

Even after their 105 Mile bases had been seized, SAC troops continued shelling into the area from their positions in Muse. On December 26, SAC troops in Muse fired shells into 105 Mile village, killing three civilians and injuring five. Civilians also continued to suffer from landmines laid during the conflict, with at least six men and one woman injured by landmines while going to farm or collect firewood around Muse by the end of January 2024.

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