Weeks of Fierce Junta Attacks in Northwest Myanmar Send 10,000 Into Hiding

2021-04-23
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Weeks of Fierce Junta Attacks in Northwest Myanmar Send 10,000 Into Hiding Myanmar protesters march down a street during a demonstration against the military junta in Yangon, April 23, 2021.
RFA

More than 20 civilians have been killed during the past 20 days during a vicious crackdown in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region, a hotbed of anti-junta rallies since the early February military coup overthrew the elected government, witnesses said Friday.

Clashes between security forces and protesters have intensified in Sagaing’s Yinmabin and Kani townships, with residents taking up improvised firearms and other simple weaponry after junta authorities tried to arrest a local Buddhist monk in early April.

There have been at least six clashes in the weeks between Apr. 2 and 23, said residents who are furious that the military used rocket-propelled grenades to quell protests.

“People here have a conviction that we must fight back against the military dictatorship with any available weapon,” said a Kani resident who did not want to be identified. “We have to resist them in every way possible. We’re not giving in. We have an armed force of about 10,000.”

Villagers in the area, which is near Myanmar’s border with India, have used tumee rifles for hunting in the mountains for generations and have been turning the simple guns that use gunpowder on the military.

Hundreds of troops are now in the area and trying to crush the popular resistance, residents said, with the crackdown intensifying since a karaoke lounge and restaurant in the area owned by an army major were recently set on fire, and a soldier was killed by unknown persons while fetching water.

In response to the stiff resistance, Myanmar forces stormed their communities in recent weeks, driving out nearly 10,000 people from 10 villages, residents said. Many left behind livestock, rice, and cash, which was stolen by the soldiers, locals told RFA.

“At first we stayed in the village during daytime to keep watch of our homes, but then the soldiers came in big numbers, so we dared not to stay there anymore,” said a woman from Win Gone village who declined to give her name.

“All the villagers had to leave their homes,” she said. “There are about 500 houses, and so at least 10,000 people, young and old alike, are on the run.”

Soldiers looted and extorted money from villages where internet service had been cut off, and took food and bottles of beer from restaurants, and bags of rice and pigs raised by locals, she said.

On Thursday, soldiers arrested about 45 Thabyay Aye villagers who went to recover the bodies of those killed by security forces, residents said. They were all released on Friday after paying off soldiers, a villager said.

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Myanmar anti-junta protesters flash a three-finger salute of defiance during a demonstration in downtown Yangon, April 23, 2021. Credit: AFP

‘We have no trust in them’

The military is now telling villagers that they will have peace if they lay down their arms. They are asking for our weapons, said a local resident from Yinmabin’s Kapai village.

“But we have no trust in them at all,” he said. “We have seen them doing anything they want to people in our villages. It’s not easy for us now, people are scattered and in hiding here and there in small groups.”

Aung May Yi, a former member of the Sagaing regional parliament, said troops are “bullying and suppressing people because they have weapons.”

“Even though some people have been killed, the people are not losing this fight of resistance,” she said. “All the people are getting more united than ever. People in our township who had joined the civil disobedience movement are holding on, and they [the junta] are the ones that are losing.”

In other parts of Myanmar, at least 15 people nationwide were arrested amid crackdowns by police and soldiers on Friday, witnesses said.

Sporadic protests, dubbed “No Cold Blood Protests” were held on streets in downtown Yangon, while hundreds of young people marched in outlying townships despite the heavy presence of security forces.

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Anti-junta protesters take part in a demonstration in Dawei, capital of southern Myanmar's Tanintharyi region, April 23, 2021. Credit: AFP/Dawei Watch

Government workers in hiding

In Mandalay, anti-junta protesters continued to use guerrilla tactics despite the military junta’s crackdown on pedestrians.

Government employees who left their jobs and joined the civil disobedience movement (CDM) in Mandalay say they live in constant fear of being ratted out by informers and arrested.

“Someone from the military moved into our government housing after the coup, and we’ve felt unsafe,” said a Mandalay Education Department worker. “At first, the staffers who joined the CMD were able to stay together, but then we had to go home because we were worried about our safety.”

Others remain in hiding.

“Some education employees from Yangon and Mandalay have moved around to conceal their whereabouts since they had given their addresses to the authorities when they joined the service, said a university professor involved in the CDM.

“At first they stayed in university housing in the cities, but after the military forces occupied university and school campuses, they dared not stay there anymore,” he said. “They had to leave their homes and go into hiding.”

In Sagaing’s Kalay, hundreds of civilians fled their villages as clashes intensified between military forces and local protesters, residents said.

Anti-coup demonstrators staged one march but had to abandon plans to hold a memorial service for protesters who died during the past few weeks, said a Kalay protest leader who declined to be named.

“We had to disperse quickly when we realized they [security forces] were going to block us from both ends of the road and trap us,” he said. “Anyway, we made it. We held the protest march, and no one got arrested.”

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Anti-junta protesters march down a street in Myanmar's largest city Yangon, April 23, 2021. Credit: Associated Press

Villagers questioned about fire

In Loikaw, capital of eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state, a protester jumped into a nearby creek when police and soldiers stormed a dawn protest on Thursday, and he is still missing, residents said. Security forces there arrested three women during a crackdown, they said.

In Padaung township, Bago region, about 10 villagers and a toddler from Taungpo Kwin village were arrested on Thursday for questioning about a fire that had broken out the night before at the local police station, according to a text message RFA from a source close to the family.

Soldiers allegedly tortured the young boy, forcing his father and grandfather to “confess,” someone close to the boy’s father said.

A man who broke his leg while escaping arrest and is being treated at a hospital said security forces released the toddler, but that the other detainees were still being held for questioning.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an advocacy group based in Thailand, 745 people had been killed by the junta since Feb. 1, and 3,371 others were being detained as of Friday. Another 1,118 people were at large while facing charges and arrest warrants.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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