Deadly unrest in Myanmar as opposition urges ‘defensive war’

Opposition to launch a campaign urging the UN to recognise the National Unity Government as Myanmar’s legitimate representative amid escalating violence.

The National Unity Government formed to resist the army's February 1 takeover had earlier called for a revolt against military rule, in an apparent effort to coordinate groups fighting the army and convince soldiers and state officials to switch sides [File: Time For Revolution/Handout via Reuters]

At least 20 people have been killed in fighting between militias and Myanmar’s security forces, according to witnesses and Myanmar media, in the worst violence since opponents of the military government called this week for a “people’s defensive war”.

The latest violence comes as activists and anti-military forces urged the international community on Saturday to take action, saying the lack of any “meaningful outside intervention” has led to the armed resistance.

“The young people of Myanmar [have] no choice but to fight back with what they have,” the Civil Disobedience Movement said in a statement early on Saturday, as it called on the United Nations and representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to “directly engage” with the opposition National Unity Government (NUG).

Ahead of a UN General Assembly meeting to decide who represents Myanmar as a special envoy, opposition forces are also launching a campaign this weekend to press for the recognition of the NUG as the legitimate government representative.

The NUG, formed to resist the army’s February 1 takeover, had earlier called for a revolt against the military rule, in an apparent effort to coordinate groups fighting the army and convince soldiers and state officials to switch sides.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, which ended a decade of tentative democracy and sparked nationwide anger, strikes and protests, and saw the emergence of militia groups that have attacked security forces.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors the human rights situation in Myanmar, at least 1,058 people have already been killed since the uprising against the military began. More than 6,300 others are currently in detention.

More arrests were reported on Saturday morning across the country, including in the country’s largest city of Yangon and in Sagaing Region.

Fighting since Thursday between the military and defence volunteers allied with the unity government in Myin Thar village resulted in casualties among local militias and villagers as troops used heavy artillery, according to media and a witness.

“They fired artillery, they burned down houses in our village,” said a resident, 42, who added that three children as well as his 17-year-old son, a member of the militia, were among 20 people killed.

“I lost all I have … I will not forgive them until the end of the world,” he told Reuters news agency by phone, adding he struggled to recognise his son’s body.

Social media posts on Friday and Saturday also paid tribute to the people killed, including young men who appeared to be minors.

Minors reportedly killed

BBC Burmese said on Friday that 10 people were killed in Myin Thar in the Magway Region of central Myanmar, while the Irrawaddy news website reported 17 casualties, among them minors.

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun confirmed fighting took place in Magway, according to Irrawaddy. The spokesman did not answer Reuters calls seeking comment.

Myanmar’s neighbours urged restraint from all sides following Tuesday’s call for nationwide retaliation by the shadow government.

Some analysts have warned the move could backfire and complicate the opposition’s efforts to win international support. But the opposition said the lack of international support has prompted activists and other people to take the matter into their hands.

Irrawaddy also reported the killing of three soldiers in the biggest city, Yangon, on Thursday.

Clashes erupted on Thursday and continued late on Friday in Thantlang in Chin State, bordering India, news reports also said.

Radio Free Asia and Mizzima news service said the military conducted air raids. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The NUG’s defence minister did not respond to a request for confirmation of the incidents on Thursday and Friday.

Reuters could not verify the reports of clashes, which state-run MRTV made no mention of in its nightly news bulletin.

The military tightly controls information and state media outlets have been selective in reporting unrest.

On Tuesday, about a dozen military-owned communications towers were destroyed. The same day, a shadow government working to reverse the coup called for a “people’s defensive war against the junta”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies