LOIKAW-Myanmar pro-democracy fighters in a battered pickup truck drive past abandoned and bombed-out houses in the eastern city of Loikaw, on their way to the front lines of the battle to capture their first state capital from the junta.
“Our soldiers are from Loikaw township and it’s the main reason we are motivated. We all are doing our best with the hope of going back to our homes”, said Lin Lin, their leader. He belongs to one of the dozens of “People’s Defence Force” groups (PDFs) that sprung up across Myanmar to fight the military’s 2021 coup and are now determined to capture Loikaw and deal a blow to the country’s rulers. PDFs and allied ethnic minority groups have been battling the Myanmar army for weeks in and around Loikaw, a city nestled in lush hills and home to around 50,000 people in eastern Kayah state. Thousands of residents have already fled air attacks, artillery bombardments and urban battles, PDF fighters said. Earlier this week, the streets were silent apart from the sounds of sporadic artillery fire.
“At the moment the military is on the defensive,” said Lin Lin. The junta is reeling from an offensive by three ethnic minority groups along the rugged northern border with China that has captured several towns and blocked vital trade routes.