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BANGKOK – The US and UK embassies in Burma expressed concern over reports of violent government attacks on a city in western Chin where the ruling junta declared martial law for armed resistance to military rule.
The fighting began around 6 a.m. on Saturday when government forces reinforced with helicopters bombarded the western part of Mindat city and destroyed several houses, a spokesman for the Chinland Defense Force said. It is a locally formed militia group opposed to the February coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
According to the spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, helicopters also took part in the attack.
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“The city of Mindat is currently under siege and is preparing for an all-out attack by junta forces from the air and by land,” said a statement by the Chin Human Rights Organization.
The shadow national unity government, installed by lawmakers prevented by the army from taking their seats in parliament, warned that “Mindat could potentially become a battlefield within the next 48 hours, exposing thousands of people to danger to be evicted. ” “” Many have already left the city of around 50,000, said a resident who was contacted by phone and who also fled.
Mindat Township People’s Administration, another opposition group, claimed that 15 young men had been confiscated by government forces and used as human shields. It said at least five city defenders were killed in clashes and at least ten others were injured.
None of these details could be independently verified, but a Burma State television broadcast on Saturday night reported that fighting was taking place and admitted that the city’s defenders had put up stiff resistance to the army.
“The military’s use of weapons of war against civilians, including this week in Mindat, is yet another demonstration of the depths to which the regime will sink in order to stay in power,” the British Embassy said on Twitter. “We call on the military to stop violence against civilians.”
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The US embassy said it was “aware of the increasing violence in Mindat, including reports of the shooting of civilians by the military,” and urged that evidence of atrocities be sent to UN investigators.
Detailed figures, compiled by several different surveillance groups, indicate that government security forces killed more than 750 demonstrators and bystanders while trying to suppress opposition to the military seizure. In April, security forces were accused of killing more than 80 people in one day to destroy street barricades that militants had set up as strongholds in the city of Bago.
In many or most cases, police and soldiers tried to break off peaceful protests, although some demonstrators resisted in self-defense when they increased the use of lethal force. In recent weeks there has been an increase in small bomb attacks in many cities, most of which have caused only minor damage and losses.
The junta says the death toll is less than 300 and the use of force was justified to quell the so-called riots.
Mindat’s resistance fighters are only lightly armed, mostly with a traditional single-shot hunting rifle, but the area around the town is mountainous and forested and prefers defenders over attackers.
The MRTV report listed previous attacks on government forces and facilities, most recently on Thursday when it was alleged that around 100 blocked security guards had failed to enter the city, destroyed a vehicle and left an unspecified number of security guards dead and missing .
In a later attack, it was said that an even larger force launched an attack in the city on security forces who patrolled nearby, destroyed six vehicles and claimed an unspecified number of government casualties.
The opposition government announced earlier this month a plan to unite groups like the Chinland Defense Force into a national People’s Defense Force to serve as the forerunner of a Federal Union Army of democratic forces including ethnic minorities.
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Khin Ma Ma Myo, deputy defense minister of the shadow government, said one of the people’s defense forces’ roles is to protect the resistance movement from military attacks and junta-instigated violence.