The armed resistance at Mindat marks a dramatic transformation of the pro-democracy movement from a peaceful protest agitation to an armed one…reports Anwesha Bhaumik
Heavy fighting continued in Mindat town in Myanmar’s Chin state on Saturday, as civilian fighters fought the Myanmar military or Tatmadaw, braving heavy artillery barrages.
Two more resistance fighters died on Friday, bringing the death toll to three, said a spokesman of the resistance who called himself “John”.
“John” told IANS the Mindat Defense Force were not taking cognisance of a declaration of martial law by the Myanmar military junta.
“We just don’t care for such declarations. We will fight on and not allow the Tatmadaw enter our town,” said John.
The armed resistance at Mindat marks a dramatic transformation of the pro-democracy movement from a peaceful protest agitation to an armed one, that could dramatically escalate Myanmar’s civil war so far restricted to ethnic border regions like Kachin, Karen and Rakhine provinces.
While hundreds of Burmese protesters have fled and joined armed resistance groups like the Federal Army and United Defence Force and are now receiving training at Karen and Kachin rebel bases, the defence by Chin boys and girls armed with just hunting rifles and gunpowder used locally is turning into an epic symbol of the resistance.
The junta describes the Chin resistance fighters as ‘armed terrorists’.
John said the Mindat Defense Force is just 300-400 boys and girls with a sprinkling of local police and former Chin insurgents, armed with barely 100 hunting rifles, but adept at using the hill terrain to tie down a demoralised Burmese army.
He said the Tatmadaw is pounding the Mindat town with artillery from a base in Magwe 33 km away.
“They have also brought in snipers who killed two of our fighters,” John told IANS.
“We are not able to retrieve the two dead bodies or rescue the wounded since the junta troops are opening fire on anyone who appears on the streets.”
“The junta troops are trying to enter into the town via both the west and east entrances while we are protecting our town. Fighting at the east side of the town is intensifying. Shootouts also occurred downtown,” he added.
The civilian resistance fighters also reportedly seized about six military vehicles from Kyaukhtu that were approaching Mindat during the shootouts.
A viral video on social media shows weapons and provisions on about six vehicles abandoned by the fleeing junta troops being taken by Chin civilian resistance fighters.
Local residents also said that at least five junta troops were reportedly killed during the shootouts on the east side of the town on Friday.
Fighting between junta troops and the Mindat Defense Force resumed on Wednesday night after a ceasefire in late April broke down.
The military regime declared martial law for Mindat on Thursday night after bombarding the town with artillery in response to the residents’ week-long resistance.
Under martial law, those who commit one of 23 “offenses” in the town will be tried in military courts and face penalties ranging from death, indefinite jail terms with labor and the maximum possible punishments under existing legislation, said orders signed by the military regime’s secretary Lieutenant-General Aung Lin Dwe.
The 23 offenses also include high treason, sedition, obstruction of military personnel and civil servants performing their duties, possession of weapons, ties to unlawful associations and violence.
However, the martial law declaration has had no effect on the town since 60 per cent of Mindat is under the control of its residents, said a member of Mindat’s People Administration, who identified himself as “Lian”.
“Our people do not accept the marital law. Currently, we are concentrating on the shootouts. We can govern the whole town, except the police station and some places,” Lian said.
Since 6 p.m. on Thursday, shootouts started on the Mindat-Matupi highway, which is located on the west edge of the town.
Mindat Defense Force fighters defended the approach to the town against about 11 vehicles carrying 250 junta troops on a probing mission.
Meanwhile shootouts have been happening on the highway connecting Mindat and Magwe region’s Kyaukhtu on the east side of the town since Thursday morning.
Civilian resistance fighters there are fighting against about 180 junta troops from Kyaukhtu that are approaching the town.
Also, civilian resistance fighters resisting junta troops at the east side of the town have also been attacked by artillery based in Kyaukhtu, John told IANS.
Mindat Defense Force said in its statement on Friday that the military has used reinforced troops, heavy explosives, artillery, rocket propelled grenades and automatic machine guns in the shootouts with civilian resistance fighters.
In the firefights, most civilian resistance fighters are using traditional percussion lock firearms, a kind of hunting rifle.
The firearm uses technology dating back to the early 19th century.
On Friday, residents were told by the Mindat’s People Administration to dig bomb shelters as two military helicopters were hovering over the town.
On Thursday night, shootouts between junta troops and resistance fighters occurred at Mindat’s police station near the headquarters of the military’s Battalion 274.
After the initial encounters, the Tatmadaw troops opened indiscrminate fire on the town.
In Thursday’s encounter, an ethnically Chin teenager was killed and six other members of Chin state’s civilian resistance forces were wounded by junta artillery.
Armed resistance by Mindat residents started on April 26 with an attack on the police station after junta forces broke promises to release seven young anti-regime protesters.
On April 26 and 27, the Mindat Defense Force attacked military reinforcements approaching the town using homemade percussion lock firearms, leaving at least 20 junta troops dead.
The military casualties led to talks with residents and a ceasefire in April that broke down this week.
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