At least 10 people were killed when troops loyal to Myanmar’s junta attacked a base used to assist refugees in northwestern Sagaing region, but were outmaneuvered by militiamen using guerrilla tactics to overcome a deficit in firepower, sources said Friday.
A member of the People’s Defense Force (PDF) militia in Sagaing’s Mingin township, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that his group had been evacuating thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from an area east of the Chindwin River Thursday when a group of junta soldiers and regime-aligned paramilitaries known as the Pyu Saw Htee arrived and began to engage them.
“We were helping the IDPs with their health and security issues when the military council came into the forest,” he said, using regime opponents’ term for the junta, which calls itself the State Administration Council.
“They were posing as civilians. We let them get close to our hideout because we thought they were villagers from elsewhere and were taken by surprise. We saw nine of their bodies left behind [after we repelled the attack].”
The PDF fighter said that despite the surprise attack, members of his militia used their knowledge of the jungle to outflank the junta soldiers and only suffered one casualty.
According to the Mingin PDF, around 8,000 civilians from 11 villages have been living in a makeshift camp around 17 miles from where the fighting took place.
Attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun for comment on the clash went unanswered Friday.
A local security analyst, who also declined to be named, told RFA that despite only possessing slingshots and the same crude flintlock “Tumee” rifles their forefathers used to fight off British colonizers in the 1880s, the local PDF was able to fight off the military “about 40 percent because of their knowledge of the terrain and the remainder because of their conviction that they are fighting against injustice.
On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military staged a coup, seizing power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), rejecting its landslide victory in November 2020 general elections as the result of voter fraud. The junta has provided no evidence to back up its claims and citizens from all walks of life have protested the takeover.
Amid nationwide turmoil, the military has stepped up offensives in remote parts of the country of 54 million that have led to fierce battles with a profusion of People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias formed to protect residents from troops loyal to the junta. Ethnic armies in other parts of the nation have used the instability to encroach on one another’s territory.
According to the Irrawaddy online newspaper, an ethnic Chin teenager was also killed by a junta landmine near Mindat’s Shat village on Thursday while going to farm with his family.
Mindat has been the site of several clashes between the military and the PDF since an April ceasefire broke down on May 12. A military raid on the township of 25,000 three days later prompted around 90 percent of residents to flee their homes.
While the two sides agreed a 14-day ceasefire on June 19, only around 30 percent of IDPs have returned, saying they continue to fear for their safety.
Two youths killed
Thursday’s violence came a day after military troops shot and killed two ethnic Chin youths in Sagaing’s Kalay township, according to residents, who said local authorities wrote off the deaths as “COVID-19-related,” referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The two youths—Mai Nuam Za Tian, 19, and Salai Ngun Nei Paing, 24—were shot dead by the military at around 9:00 p.m. in Taungphila ward, sources said, while riding a motorbike back to the region from Kalay township, scene of intense fighting since April.
A relative of Mai Nuam Tian said she had traveled around 12 miles from her home in Nyaungdon village to Kalay that evening to fetch medicine for her uncle. The relative said that Salai Ngun Nei Paing had offered her a lift back home on his motorbike and that the two were shot by soldiers when they refused an order to stop.
Mai Nuam Tian’s body was located at the local hospital on Thursday morning with a death certificate that said she had died of COVID-19, according to the relative, but an examination of her body revealed that she had been shot.
“Even then, her body was not allowed to be taken back to the village,” the family member said.
“It was taken to the cemetery straight from the military hospital for burial. When they arrived at the cemetery, the family did not believe what the military said, so they opened the coffin and checked the body before burying it. They also took pictures. They found a bullet wound below her knee.”
The body of Salai Ngun Nei Paing was found along the roadside on Thursday morning.
A resident of Taungphila ward confirmed that the two had been shot there by soldiers hiding by the roadside.
“I heard the sound of a motorbike at around 9:00 p.m. and then I heard four or five gunshots,” the resident said.
“One of them fell and died right in front of my house. The shooters were soldiers, of course. Sometimes they come here in boats. That day, they had been hiding from view since the morning.”
The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) Deputy Executive Director Salai Zaouk Ling told RFA that junta troops have routinely attempted to cover up the deaths of people they have killed by labeling them the result of COVID-19.
“What the military did here is nothing new,” he said. “Two people in Haka [township] were recently tortured to death and the army said the same thing.”
“The military had no excuse—shooting people without cause is a war crime.”
Calls to junta spokesman General Zaw Min Tun seeking comment on the incident went unanswered Friday.
Also on Wednesday, junta soldiers in Sagaing region’s Watlat township destroyed 16 residences during a raid on the home village of Dr. Tay Za San, one of the first people to organize anti-coup protests in Myanmar’s second city Mandalay and who is currently in hiding.
The raid was the second in three days on Shwe Ohya village, a resident told RFA, and was carried out after troops said they had obtained information that local youths had been organizing a branch of the PDF.
“All the villagers ran as they entered. They opened fire at three boys who ran away from the school, and one got hit in the back, although he did not die,” the resident said.
“They were looking for the former village ddministrator and youths who were said to be forming a defense group, but they didn’t find anyone,” he added.
“They can arrest whoever they want, as long as they don’t harm anyone. People are worried they might set fire to the village.”
Efforts by the junta to stamp out local resistance to its rule continued Friday, when troops in Sagaing’s Yinmabin township arrested a fireman who had joined the nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).
“As usual, they started shooting when they entered the area,” said a resident of the fireman’s home village of Banbway.
“Shortly afterwards, they had arrested two people—a villager and a fireman with the CDM.”
The Banbway resident said people are forced to flee whenever soldiers come to the village because they forcibly search homes and beat up those who live there.
Several villages in the area had earlier fought back against the military with Tumee guns, he said, and sources claimed that local PDF forces had recently destroyed a vehicle carrying junta soldiers with an improvised bomb in the vicinity of nearby Pale township’s Khin Aye village.
RFA was unable to independently confirm the bombing or whether anyone had been killed in the incident.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), the military has killed at least 880 people, while some 5,104 people have been detained, charged, or sentenced in the five months since the coup.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.