Sunday, 17 November 2019

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Northern battalion arms depot explodes, panicking villagers

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Massive blasts from shells exploding at an army ordnance depot in Kachin State late last month shattered windows in homes nearby and panicked villagers near Hopin on a northern railway, residents said.

It was unknown what set off the shells for 81mm and 60mm mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at the Infantry Battalion 389 ammunition store on June 30, creating panic among villagers of Ywathitgyi two furlongs yards (400 metres) away from the base, and Nongcho village, just across the road.

Residents said that the 50-foot-square underground ordnance depot of the battalion based on the Myitkyina-Mandalay rail line exploded in the evening.

“The explosion shattered windows of houses in nearby villages and even the flower vases on shrines fell down”, resident from Hopin told Mizzima, repeating what he had heard from the villagers.

Two days after the explosion, Bureau of Special Operations Commander Lieutenant  General Thar Aye from the Defence Ministry visited the battalion to investigate the blasts, military sources said.

The battalion, under the Northern Command, is on the Hopin-Phakant highway, four  miles (6.4 kilometres) west of Hopin, sources said.

When Mizzima contacted Hopin police station for further details about the incident, an officer on duty said: “We don’t know much about this explosion and our police station has no contact with them [the battalion] at all. This explosion took place at their battalion [outside our jurisdiction].”

Meanwhile, Special Branch police and 20 plain-clothes personnel from Military Affairs Security sent by Naypyidaw raided the home of United Wa State Army Major Aik Tun at Myazeya Ward in Hopin on Tuesday. A local resident said he had learned that a handgun and a rifle were seized along with a Mitsubishi Pajero SUV.

Aik Tun and his wife remained at large but a son was detained for questioning and later released, a source said, adding that a watchman at Aik Tun’s rubber plantation remained in the officers’ custody.

Mizzima was yet unable to verify the claims through independent sources.

While the cause of the Hopin blast was unverifiable as reports said the battalion was locked down for an investigation into the explosions, smoking ignited ammunition at the depot of the Third Infantry Battalion in Belin, Karen State, two months ago, leading to a series of blasts.

Former army officer living in exile, Bo Htet Min, said that in such cases, the battalion commanders and soldiers responsible were usually removed from their posts, demoted or transferred to other units.


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