The village in Myanmar’s wartorn north has been a ghost town for nearly two years, its 1,200 residents driven into the jungle by repeated raids by junta troops and fighting in the area.
They have no idea when they’ll be able to return to Htei Hlaw and its nearly 200 houses.
“We’ve been hiding in the jungle for almost two years,” said Win Win, a 60-year-old woman. “We fled from our village because we were afraid of the soldiers and their raids. We may be killed if they find us.
“We are now facing food shortages because floods destroyed our crops,” she said. “We have no money and the roads are blocked.”
The area has seen fierce fighting between rebel People’s Defense Forces and junta troops, and 14 houses of the village were burned down during several raids by the army, residents said.
Junta soldiers entered the village – on the road between Gangaw in Magway with Kale in the northern Sagaing region – and shot farmers who were harvesting sesame. Then they fired heavy artillery into the area, residents said.
The scene is a microcosm of fighting happening in many villages across the country since ordinary people took up arms to fight the military, which took over control of the country in a February 2021 coup.
Hard to get food
Living in the jungle, food is hard to obtain because of military operations in the area, said Myint Kyaw Soe, a Htei Hlaw resident.
“Currently, it is extremely difficult to buy rice and edible oil,” he said. “No one sells these commodities.
“There are always three or four military columns that are conducting operations [in the area]. Since we cannot afford or use cars in the jungle, we have to use motorcycles. It’s hard to get fuel for motorcycles and gas prices have risen to 5,000-6,000 kyats per liter. (US$2.30-2.70) We have been facing hardship to get food because roads are being blocked."
In the rainy season, they get drinking water from streams that run down from the mountains, but in the dry season – March and April – water is hard to find.
They could get electricity when they were in the village, however they have used solar panels to charge the batteries in the jungle.
They also need to get assistance for healthcare and education, Myint Kyaw Soe said.
“Every village in Gangaw was attacked, looted and burned down, so it is hard to get healthcare assistance from other villages,” he said. “We like to get assistance for medicine. On education, we also request donations of books, pencils and other teaching resources and for building shelters for teachers.”
They have to travel to Let Pan clinic which is five miles away from their hiding place since there are no health workers in their hiding place.
A school is being run by teachers from the village who have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement – government workers who have left their jobs in protest – and others who passed the matriculation exams.
Win Win says she misses her village all the time.
“I want to return to my village but I can’t. Life is difficult in the jungle. It is hot and sunny,” she said. “I miss my village all the time, butI can’t return home because there is no peace yet.”