Fighting between junta forces and local defense forces in the northwestern part of Myanmar has been intensifying since the opposition National Unity Government declared a “defensive war” against the ruling junta on September 7.
Explosions have been frequent in cities, with the NUG saying September 18 there had been 101 bomb blasts in Yangon alone between September 7 and September 17. Dozens were also reported in Sagaing region in the northwest and Mandalay region in the central part of the country. Local militia groups and underground forces have targeted security forces, banks, junta assets and facilities including telecommunications towers. The junta said September 12 that 68 towers had been destroyed in the seven months since the coup.
Signs point to a worsening situation.
“The NUG has told us to be ready to take action,” 26-year-old Yangon resistance fighter Hein Zaw Latt, told VOA September 18.
“We have conducted six operations in Yangon,” he said, adding, “We are collecting information about the activities of security forces for further attacks.”
“More attacks will be conducted very soon,” said Naung Cho, a member of the opposition’s People's Defense Force in the capital, Naypyitaw. He spoke to VOA a day after launching the fourth guerrilla attack on a police checkpoint in the city’s Lewe Township September 20, injuring three police officers.
Fighting in remote areas escalates
Clashes between the local resistance fighters and junta forces have intensified in four of the country’s divisions – the northwestern Chin state and Magway and Sagaing regions, and the eastern Kayah state. NUG defense minister Ye Mon wrote on his social media page on September 20 that the opposition People’s Defense Force had taken control of many villages and would soon take another step “toward the revolution.”
Critics of the minister's remarks have also emerged, though.
Many small groups fighting on the ground mainly depend on makeshift weapons and hunting rifles, and they cannot counter junta airstrikes and heavy artillery attacks. Critics say the minister should focus more on getting promised weapons to the PDF than writing on Facebook.
Fighting is likely to intensify because military forces are stationed in villages, a local PDF member said.
More clashes, more victims
All of the sources told VOA the junta forces keep committing serious crimes, from arson to massacres of civilians. They say the junta also blocked internet access in some areas surrounded by heavy fighting.
Photographs and a short video have been widely circulated on social media showing houses on fire in the town of Thantlang in Chin state on the evening of September 18. At least 20 homes were burned down by military artillery strikes and a pastor of the Thantlang Baptist Church was killed.
After that incident almost all residents fled the town. Some families went to the Indian border while others stayed in makeshift camps in border villages inside Myanmar, according to a spokesman for the Thantlang Placement Affairs Committee, which helps displaced people.
The Chin Baptist Association has strongly denounced the military's actions in Thantlang, saying it could lead to religious and ethnic clashes in the country.
“It was an insult to religion and religious community,” the statement said.
VOA was unable to obtain a military response on the case, but military spokesman General Zaw Min Tun told a local news outlet September 21 that the fighting between the army and local PDF erupted in Thantlang when the local PDF began attacking security forces. The pastor’s death is still being investigated, the spokesman said.
Another incident occurred in Myain Thar village, Gangaw township in Magway region on September 9. The NUG said 18 villagers, including 12 under the age of 18, were killed by junta forces.
Thousands of displaced civilians in makeshift camps around the country are facing food shortages and other difficulties, local charity group members told VOA.
Yangon security tightened
Security was tightened in Yangon after the NUG declaration. Security forces patrol townships, making random checks of homes, and personal belongings of people on the street are searched. Many young activists and students are reportedly arrested every day and accused of being linked to anti-regime attacks.
Nan Thandar Htway, a Yangon resident, said she is worried about her son’s security.
“My son isn’t involved in any violent attacks, but he could be taken at any time by the military if they wanted. I don’t let my son to go outside alone,” Nan Thandar Htway said. “I am terrified when I hear a knock on the door.”
Inspections and random checks have become more frequent in Mandalay after the NUG announcement, a freelance journalist told VOA. The journalist said people very rarely go outside at night for fear of arrest.
The Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said that as of September 30, 1,146 people have been killed by junta and over 8,500 people had been arrested since the coup.