Residents fear major military attack as junta further cuts off telecommunications access in central Myanmar

On Sunday, the military extended a recent communications blackout in parts of the Sagaing region to six other townships, including four in neighboring Magway, cutting off phone and internet services to known resistance strongholds.

Residents of eight townships in the Sagaing region—Kanbalu, Kani, Khin-U, Kyunhla, Monywa, Pale, Ye-U and Yinmabin—saw fixed and mobile phone services cut off on May 24 and feared the move would precedes a major military operation in the region.

The cuts were extended this week to Salingyi and Taze in Sagaing, as well as Gangaw, Myaing, Pauk and Yesagyo townships in Magway, according to local sources.

The army attacked and burned villages in the affected townships, an officer from the Monywa branch of the anti-junta People’s Defense Forces (PDF) said, noting that he was only able to speak with Myanmar Now because that he had moved outside the area affected by the cuts.

“You can still access the internet in some places in Salingyi, but they are also burning down some villages in the area whose communications have been cut off,” he said. “We do not yet know the number of victims or the extent of the damage. However, we know they are sending more reinforcements.

Junta helicopters were seen landing at the North West Regional Command base in Monywa, he added, presumably bringing more troops to the area.

Some 130 trucks usually used to transport troops were also seen leaving the regional command base on May 27, the PDF officer said, speculating that a military offensive could soon be launched in Kani, Pale and Yinmabin townships. .

“All these trucks were covered with tarpaulins, so we don’t know how many soldiers they were carrying,” the PDF officer told Myanmar Now.

Another Monywa resident said the convoy in question had arrived in Pale at the time of the report.

Amid the change in troop movements, he maintained that no telephone or internet service was available on the west bank of the Chindwin River in Kani, Pale, Salingyi and Yinmabin townships, but there was had occasional access from two telecom providers – Ooredoo and Telenor – in other parts of Sagaing.

“You can still access the internet in some places in Monywa but the calls never go through and even if they do we can’t hear the person on the other line,” he said, adding that the telephone lines remained “quite unstable”. ”

He noted that none of the service providers informed the public about the communication blackouts in advance.

Another convoy of 200 military trucks was seen by residents driving along the Monywa-Pathein highway on Monday evening, reportedly attacking villages and burning houses along the road.

Meanwhile, the presence of junta forces around Salingyi has recently increased. The township is the site of Chinese-backed Letpadaung and S&K copper mines, projects that resistance forces have demanded be stopped. The army attacked villages near the mines, causing the inhabitants to flee; two displaced men were recently found murdered after being abducted by Burmese army troops occupying the area.

On Monday evening, telephone service was reportedly restored to parts of Salingyi, as well as Pauk.

Myanmar Now has still been unable to get feedback from residents of most affected townships due to the communication breakdown.

The junta has issued no statement regarding the cuts to telephone and internet services in Sagaing and Magway.