A rebel army and a local militia have killed 40 Myanmar junta soldiers in two days of fighting this week in regions near the country’s northern and western borders, witnesses reported, in what would be the largest number of casualties inflicted on security forces since the Feb. 1 military coup.
The killing of 30 regime troops by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the northernmost state of Kachin, and of 10 junta soldiers in the neighboring Sagaing region by a newly formed township militia were reported by villagers Friday and have not been confirmed by the rebels or the military regime.
The rise in casualties inflicted on the far better armed junta comes as the fledgling National Unity Government (NUG) tries to unify the numerous local “People’s Defense Forces” that have sprung up across Myanmar under a nationwide army to fight the State Administration Council (SAC), as the regime calls itself.
The NUG, a shadow government made up of members of leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government that was deposed by the military in February and ethic region leaders, was launched on April 16, and unveiled the “People’s Defense Force” (PDF) on May 5.
The shadow government intends to build the PDF into a Federal Union Army that combines militias formed by majority ethnic Bamars (Burmese) across central Myanmar with the country’s many ethnic armed organizations, such as the KIA, to fight the well-trained but widely loathed junta military forces.
The fighting in Kachin state, which borders China, Thursday and Friday flared up as junta forces staged major attacks to try to retake a military camp at Alawbwan that was captured by the KIA in April.
“They were using aircraft and heavy weapons. Their main target is to retake Alawbwan Camp, which the KIA occupied last month. They are now trying hard to get it back but the KIA is still holding onto it,” Colonel Naw Bu, the KIA's information officer, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“There’s been fighting every day in the Myothit and Konglaw areas. The situation is very tense,” he added, referring to villages in Momauk township at the center of the fighting. “There were casualties but we cannot tell you the details yet.”
10 bombing runs by junta
A resident of Sihat village, where three military troops were killed when the KIA downed a helicopter on Monday, told RFA that KIA troops clashed with junta soldiers at nearby Towerdine Hill, killing about 30 soldiers.
“The fighting has intensified. Yesterday three or four aircraft came to bomb the Towerdine area nearly 10 times,” the villager said on Friday.
“My brother, who is a construction worker, was traveling along Myitkyina-Bhamo road and saw them carrying the dead. ‘There must be about 30 bodies,’ he told me,” said the villager, who declined to be named for security reasons.
“The military aircraft came almost every day, but not today,” he added.
Fighting in Kachin state, which flared up two weeks after the Feb. 1 coup, has entailed about 100 clashes, including at least 60 airstrikes by the junta military, Kachin sources told RFA, military analysts.
More than 12,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, and two Buddhist monks and 15 other civilians have been killed, they said.
“We farmers are facing great difficulties. We cannot go back to the fields to tend the crops and we are worried they will all be destroyed,” said a woman in Sihat village.
“We have invested so much in them and now we cannot harvest them. They shoot at us whenever we go to the fields,” she added.
RFA calls to junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun were not answered Friday. The junta has not released any reports of the Kachin fighting.
Battalion commander reported killed
To the southwest of Kachin in Sagaing region, three clashes in three villages between the junta forces and members of the Kani Township People's Defense Force on Thursday killed at least 10 regime troops, while two local residents died, villagers told RFA.
Sagaing-based Khit Thit News reported that Major Thant Sin Myint, the acting commander of the 404th Artillery Battalion was among junta soldiers killed in the Kani clashes.
More than 100 junta soldiers came to the town after an informant tipped them about the local forces, a member of the Kani Township People's Defense Force said.
“There was a shootout between our local forces and the military near the hills behind Thamingyan village. We haven’t suffered any casualties so far. We had retreated back a little because they were firing heavy weapons at us,” he said.
“We used home-made landmines seven times. They have informants who told them about our location. All we have are Tumee handmade weapons,” he said, referring to crude hunting rifles rural residents have wielded against junta troops in
Sagaing, a territory bordering India and populated mostly by majority Bamars.
In Sagaing’s Tamu, a city of 44,000 people, local fighters using the black powder rifles killed 14 soldiers in late March and early April, local reports said, but the defense against violent crackdowns from soldiers invited more brutality from the junta.
“We would be so happy if the ethnic armies could help us with some weapons. And we want to ask people in all parts of the country to fight back the junta in every way possible,” said the Kani fighter.
‘We can get rid of them’
The Sagaing militiaman’s plea for arms and help on Friday came as Khin Ma Ma Myo, the NUG deputy defense minister, said People's Defense Force township-level units across the France-sized country of 54 million were working on linking up and sharing information.
“What is happening in the country right now is that the commander-in-chief has abused his power and abused the country. We urge the people and the ethnic armed groups to join forces and fight back,” he said, referring to junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.
“Gradually, if we all unite to resist we can get rid of them,” said Khin Ma Ma Myo.
“I would like to appeal to all ethnic armed groups and the people as well as members of the armed forces and police to work with us and build the future of our country,” he said.
A member of the local township militia in Kalay, another Sagaing town where local fighters have inflicted casualties on government troops, said his group is willing to join the NUG national force.
"We have not joined them yet, but it will be more convenient if we can join them and work under their command,” said the militiaman.
“Right now we joined forces among our villages when (junta soldiers) came, working as a guerrilla unit,” he said. “It’s not a large organization yet, but we want to cooperate as soon as possible.”
However, not all opponents of the military junta in ethnic areas appear willing to join the nationwide army in a country where the people of ethnic minority regions have been badly treated by Myanmar’s central government for decades.
“There has been no communication (with NUG). If they do not contact us, we don’t care,” said a member of the Hakha township unit of the Chinland Defense Force (CDF), which was formed on April 4 in Chin State, a rugged, underdeveloped area on Myanmar’s border with India and Bangladesh.
The Chinland Defense Force, which has units in nine townships of the a state organized on tribal lines, has reported that the CDF in Mindat township killed at least 20 junta soldiers in a battle from April, while the Hakha killed nine regime troops early this week.
“We will give support to the CDF, and if a separate armed group is to be set up here, it will have to be discussed again,” said the Hakha CDF fighter.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Paul Eckert.