Yangon (AFP), Jul 4 – Twenty-five anti-junta fighters and civilians were killed during clashes with the military in central Myanmar, villagers said Sunday, as locals increasingly take up arms against the regime in the coup-wracked country.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since a February coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, with 890 people killed in a junta crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.
In some areas civilians have formed “defence forces” to combat the State Administration Council, as the junta dubs itself, often using hunting rifles or makeshift weapons cobbled together from household items.
The central Sagaing region has been the site of multiple skirmishes between defence forces and the military, and on Friday fighting broke out in Depayin township.
Residents told AFP that military trucks entered their area and opened fire on a village near the jungle hoping to flush out members of the local defence force.
“We heard the shooting of artillery 26 times,” said a villager, who added that anti-junta fighters tried to retaliate but could not fend off the attack.
“They shot everyone who they saw on the road and in the village. They did not just have one target,” he said.
Civilians were among the dead, he added.
Villagers waited until Saturday to venture out of their homes to assess the casualties, said a member of the local defence force who helped to organise the collection of bodies.
“We firstly got nine dead bodies and buried them,” he told AFP, adding that eight more were found by a different team and also buried the same day.
On Sunday, they found eight more bodies.
“I noticed from their bodies that most of them were shot in the head,” he said — an observation that another man who helped move the dead confirmed to AFP.
The anti-junta fighter said the security presence around Depayin was increasing, displacing thousands of residents who had fled in fear of further military action.
“The army has been hunting us in the jungle since this morning,” he said.
BBC News Burmese — the BBC’s Myanmar language service — reported a similar death toll.
– ‘Stabilising the area’ –
State-run media offered a different account of the skirmish, saying the military was patrolling the area when they were ambushed.
Soldiers fended off “armed terrorists” and later found “four mortars and six percussion lock firearms”, reported the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, which did not give a death toll in the village.
In another attack in a different part of Sagaing one member of the security forces was killed and authorities were “working to stabilise the area”, the paper added.
Despite the threat of crackdowns, protesters in Myanmar are still taking to the streets daily in defiance of the military regime.
On Sunday residents across Sagaing held short demonstrations, flashing a three-finger salute of defiance during rapid marches through the streets.