Fear, resistance as fighting rages in northern Myanmar – Times of India


SAGAING (MYANMAR): Anticoup fighters in Myanmar are patrolling the smoldering ruins of a burned-down village after what they believe was a retaliatory attack by junta forces trying to crush resistance to last year’s military coup.
Corrugated iron roofs, girders and cooking utensils are all that remains among the ashes in the northwest village of Sagaing – an area where some of the fiercest battles against the army’s coup have taken place.
Rare images obtained by AFP show a region ravaged by violence and crisscrossed by junta forces, pro-military militias and anti-coup fighters, where internet access is regularly cut off by authorities.
Win Soe said junta forces destroyed his village of Tharyarkone, about 100 kilometers west of the second city of Mandalay, late last month.
“Soldiers came to our village on their way back to their camp,” he said.
“There was no fighting here and they only came to destroy things – they set fire to 60 houses in our village,” said Win Soe.
A group of about a dozen young men – some in combat clothes, football socks and sneakers, others in shorts and sandals – arrived to survey the burnt remains of the village as they patrolled the district, the armed forces chasing them.
The unit is part of a local “People’s Defense Force” (PDF), dozens of which have sprung up in Sagaing and across the country to fight the military in a bid to undo the coup that ousted the elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi last year.
Often armed with little more than homemade weapons and terrain knowledge, some of these groups have surprised the military with their effectiveness, some analysts say.
The junta has responded with an offensive that human rights groups say includes destroying villages, mass extrajudicial killings and air strikes on civilians.
In May, the UN humanitarian agency UNOCHA said more than 12,000 civilian properties had been burned or destroyed since the coup.
The military accuses PDF fighters – which it has declared “terrorists” – of lighting the fires and says their assassination campaigns have killed hundreds, including Buddhist monks, teachers and medical personnel.
Last Friday, junta troops attacked Depeyin municipality in Sagaing in helicopters.
The military says they targeted PDF fighters and an ethnic rebel group in the area, accusing them of using civilians as human shields.
The UN children’s agency says at least 11 schoolchildren were killed in the incident, with 15 more missing.
A million displaced persons
Post-coup violence has brought the number of displaced persons in Myanmar to more than one million, according to the UN, in addition to those previously displaced from their homes due to protracted conflict in ethnic border areas.
Sagaing — home to mostly ethnic Bamar and a traditional army recruiting ground — has seen more than half a million people displaced since the coup, the UN said.
Even in villages that are not set on fire, locals said they lived in fear of military violence.
“When soldiers came to our village, we hid behind some bushes, but my son was in poor health and could only hide nearby,” said San Nwae, from Mintaingpin village, close to Tharyarkone.
“When the soldiers found him, they beat him to death. From my hiding place I heard the sound of someone being killed,” she said.
“After soldiers left the village…I came out of hiding and realized that the one who had been killed was my son.”
Diplomatic efforts led by the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to resolve the bloody deadlock in Myanmar have made little progress, with the generals refusing to interact with opponents.
“We’ve been fighting the military for a year, but we don’t have enough weapons and we’re just fighting with our homemade weapons,” said an anti-junta PDF member.
He admitted that his group of about 20 fighters often could not hold the army for long.
“When the soldiers come to our village, we warn the villagers to run away and we try to evacuate them,” he said.
“When soldiers arrest villagers, most of them are killed.”

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