Myanmar’s military regime has admitted it is facing “heavy assaults” by anti-coup forces who began a coordinated offensive at the end of last month, claiming to have taken control of several towns in border areas and dozens of military outposts.
Spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said troops were under “heavy assaults from a significant number of armed rebel soldiers” in Shan State in the north, Kayah State in the east and Rakhine State in the west.
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Anti-coup fighters were using “hundreds” of drones to drop bombs on military posts, and some sites had to be evacuated, he added.
“We are urgently taking measures to protect against drone bomb attacks effectively,” he said in a statement late on Wednesday.
Myanmar was plunged into crisis when the generals seized power from the elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup in February 2021.
Millions took to the streets to call for the restoration of democracy. But when the military responded with force, some civilians took up arms, joining forces with ethnic armed groups who have long been fighting for self-determination. At least 4,185 civilians and anti-coup activists have been killed in the violence since, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Myanmar non-profit tracking the crackdown.
The new offensive, code-named Operation 1027, began in Shan State near the border with China on October 27 under the Three Brotherhood Alliance, a grouping of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA).
Its aim is to eradicate “oppressive military dictatorship” and fighting has since spread to other areas of the country, including western Rakhine and Chin states, bordering Bangladesh and India.
More than 200,000 people have been displaced by the fighting and at least 75 civilians, including children, have been killed, according to the United Nations.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “deeply concerned by the expansion of conflict”, spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that fighting had forced more than two million people from their homes.
The military has long claimed it is the only organisation that can hold Myanmar together and had ruled the country for 50 years before embarking on reforms that eventually led to Aung San Suu Kyi becoming civilian leader.
Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbours have tried to encourage a peace process, but the generals have ignored their efforts. At a meeting of defence ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Thursday, Indonesia’s Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto reiterated the need for peace.
“We are saddened with a deteriorating situation in Myanmar,” Prabowo said in his opening speech. “Indonesia encourages other ASEAN member states to support Myanmar to find a peaceful and durable solution to the current situation.”
Myanmar’s representatives are barred from ASEAN’s top summits because of their failure to implement an April 2021 agreement with the grouping in which they agreed to end the violence.
The AA, which had previously observed a ceasefire with the military that was agreed shortly before the coup, said on Wednesday that dozens of police and military men had surrendered or been captured as its forces advanced.
Anti-coup fighters in Kayah State on the Thai border, meanwhile, have been battling the military near the state capital, Loikaw.
Military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said the town’s prison and police office were “being targeted and attacked”.
A video posted on social media showed wounded troops in Kayah, surrendering and being offered medical help.
“We are ready to shoot you right now but we won’t do that. You raise the white flag and walk out, nothing will happen to you,” a fighter who identified himself as the vice commander-in-chief of the rebel Karenni National Defence Force is heard telling the soldiers. The video was verified by the Reuters news agency.