Anti-coup rebels say six dead in Myanmar clashes

Demonstrators during an anti-military coup protest in Myanmar, on May 16, 2021.
Demonstrators during an anti-military coup protest in Myanmar, on May 16, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

YANGON (AFP) - Six opposition rebels have been killed after days of clashes in Myanmar, an anti-junta defence force made up of civilians said Sunday (May 16), as Britain and the United States condemned the military's violence against civilians.

The country has been in uproar since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a Feb 1 coup, triggering a massive uprising which the authorities have sought to quell with lethal force.

Some in the anti-junta movement have set up local militias armed with home-made weapons to protect their towns from security forces - which have killed at least 790 civilians according to a local monitoring group.

In the western state of Chin, the town of Mindat has emerged as a hot spot for unrest, where some residents have formed the Chinland Defence Force (CDF).

“Six members of our CDF who tried to protect the security of the people in Mindat attacked (junta forces) and sacrificed their lives for the national revolution,” said a CDF statement on Sunday.

A spokesman also told AFP that over 10 have been wounded this week, while five Mindat residents were arrested by the military.

With mobile data blocked across the country, details about the fighting have been slow to come out, and on-the-ground verification is made harder, as locals are fearful of retaliation.

The spokesman, who declined to be named, told AFP that CDF fighters set fire to several army trucks, destroying them, and ambushed reinforcement troops, while the military has attacked the town with artillery.

By Sunday, the CDF had retreated into the jungle, he said.

"We will not stay anymore in the town... but we will come back to attack soon," he said. "We only have home-made guns. This was not enough."

He added that residents remaining in Mindat - which has been under martial law since last Thursday - were afraid to leave their homes for fear of being targeted by the military.

The United States and British embassies in Myanmar sounded the alarm on Saturday on Mindat's unrest, calling for security forces to cease violence.

"The military's use of weapons of war against civilians, including this week in Mindat, is a further demonstration of the depths the regime will sink to to hold onto power," the US embassy said in a tweet on Saturday.

The British embassy said the Mindat violence "cannot be justified".

"Evidence of atrocities should be sent to the (United Nations Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar) so perpetrators can be held to account," the embassy tweeted, referring to a committee that collects evidence of international crimes.

State-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported on Sunday that a military tribunal would be convened to try "perpetrators of terrorist attacks" in Mindat.

Security forces saw multiple attacks which left one man dead, said the newspaper, and an ambush on Friday by “1,000 rioters” killed some soldiers – though it did not say how many.

Across the country, anti-coup protesters continue to march for democracy - with demonstrators in northern Hpakant holding signs that said "Stay strong, Mindat".