BANGKOK – Communities across Myanmar form armed ties with mostly crude rifles and explosives in an increasingly violent resistance against the military junta that overthrew the country’s democratically elected government more than four months ago, raising fears of a comprehensive civil war It.
The military has been dominated by Myanmar’s ethnic Burman majority, and has been at war with a growing group of ethnic minority armies fighting for autonomy on land along borders since Britain’s independence in 1948.
The coup on February 1 led the fighting deeper into the country and also placed the army against ethnic Burmans, as peaceful protests against the junta give way to sporadic firefights with police and soldiers, assassinations of suspected junta collaborators and bombings in the face of the army’s bloody repression.
On the edge
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a advocacy group in Myanmar based in Mae Sot, Thailand, claims that the junta killed more than 850 civilians in its attempt to mitigate the resistance, although the junta disputes the figure.
In response to the bloodshed, United Nations officials have been warning since early April that Myanmar could potentially lead to a full-blown civil war.
The fear is reflected in Myanmar’s so – called National Unity Government, a shadow government that is bringing together displaced lawmakers, ethnic minorities and protest leaders to challenge the new junta.
“Every town in the country, every town in the country, every city in the country, every tribe … [is] about to defend themselves, because no one as a human being is righteous [going] to wait and be killed without any defense, ”said Dr. Sasa, NUG spokesperson, who mentions one name, recently told VOA.
‘Why do we say civil war? It is not just against one group and one group. It will be one group [the junta] against … hundreds of groups, or even thousands of groups, ”he said.
The new armed bands that are popping up across the country have many names, usually a ‘military’ or ‘civilian army’ affixed in their city, state or region. No one knows exactly how many there are.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a U.S. research organization that monitors conflict-related violence, counts nearly 70 such groups as of late May, of which about 20 are active. A local think tank, The Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security, says about 120 civilian defense groups have declared themselves since the coup, but it cannot explain how many of them are real.
A rising tide
What is clear is that the level of violence in Myanmar is rising along with their numbers.
ACLED counted 270 attacks on civilians in the second quarter of the year so far, 72% higher than in the previous quarter. It has also counted 578 explosions and 533 fights so far this quarter, with more than 640% and 250%.
The executive director of the Myanmar Institute, Min Zaw Oo, said he and his team had only counted attacks on the military regime and suspected collaborators in 66 cities in the past two weeks. The vast majority used homemade bombs, and include a sharp increase in assassinations, mostly on local ward administrators accused of giving information to the junta.
Min Zaw Oo said the administrators are members of the local communities and the most important points of contact most citizens have with the state.
“The opposition forces see them as the backbone of the government, and so they set them up,” he said.
A junta spokesman could not be reached for comment.
In the state of Chin, on the western border of Myanmar with India, residents of the capital Hakha formed the Chinland army by combining their single-round “tumi” rifles that were formerly used for hunting game, and some basic knowledge of explosive used for fishing. or the breaking of rock in more peaceful days.
A member of the group said seeing their friends and neighbors shot, arrested and tortured by the junta left no choice.
‘One way left’
‘We can not accept [this] kind of terrorism, ”the young man said, asking for his safety anonymously. ‘We thought [of] different ways to protest and also to express our voice, but there is only one way left [why] we are currently holding weapons. ”
He claims the group has killed more than 30 police and soldiers in and around Hakha since early May and that the group has lost five of its own to the junta’s forces. He feared worse to come.
“It is very likely that we will experience the … very intense civil war, because the feeling and the fear of … people exploded in terms of the hatred of the military activities against the innocent civilians,” he said.
The young man said he and the others braced themselves for the fight.
“I am afraid we will lose our loved ones day by day. However, if necessary, I think they will be rewarded for their bravery, ”he said. “I’m worried, but I think sometimes it’s necessary and we have to sacrifice.”
On May 5, the NUG announced the launch of a People’s Defense Force to resist the junta and help persuade the generals to relinquish power. The aim is to bring together the multitude of new groups under one umbrella as a precursor to a planned federal army that will one day also include the country’s ethnic forces.
At arm’s length
Sasa said that the NUG communicates and coordinates as much as possible with the new armed groups, but does not want to elaborate on who or what the PDF actually consists of. He conceded that it was impossible to contact all the groups in the midst of the unrest and that they would have to work on their own resources for the time being.
Little Zaw Oo sees little sign of much coordination between the new armed groups and the NUG or among the groups themselves.
“Some of them are linked to the NUG, others are not necessarily, but that may change in the future,” he said. “What we are observing now is still very loosely and loosely coordinated.”
He said the armed resistance away from the border strongholds of the ethnic armies would struggle to survive long without a centralized commando chain. With little training and only the modest ammunition, he said it is also unlikely that Myanmar will be a wider civil war unless another country chooses to arm them.
Min Zaw Oo said that Myanmar’s immediate neighbors, India, China and Thailand would not do it, but especially the stability in the country – or the closest thing to it.
Some of the ethnic armies of Myanmar have made a general case with the NUG in an effort to oust the junta and even opened their jungle protests to protesters from the cities for an accident course in guerrilla warfare. However, little Zaw Oo said that they were reluctant to arm themselves, either because they could not spare the weapons, or that they were afraid to engage in the army’s full anger and firepower if they did.
Without a substantial and steady supply of artillery and modern weapons to the new armed groups, he said, “the low intensity of violence and clashes may continue to some extent, but we may not see the greater outbreak of … civil war. “