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Deaths of villagers reported in clashes with Burma troops

by The Associated Press | September 12, 2021 at 5:06 a.m.

BANGKOK -- More than a dozen villagers, including several teenagers, have been killed in some of Burma's deadliest fighting between government troops and resistance forces since July, a villager and reports by independent media said Friday.

The fighting near Gangaw township in the northwestern Magway region started Thursday, two days after a call for a nationwide uprising was issued by the National Unity Government, an opposition organization that seeks to coordinate resistance to military rule.

The fighting broke out when more than 100 troops arrived in four military vehicles to secure the area in Myin Thar and five nearby villages, a resident said.

Members of a lightly armed village self-defense militia fired warning shots but could not stop the soldiers from entering the area, and clashes continued after that, said the resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity to safeguard his personal security.

The opposition movement that rose against the army's February seizure of power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi was initially peaceful, but it gradually began fighting back after security members used deadly force to break up nonviolent protests.

Burma is often called Myanmar, a name that military authorities adopted in 1989. Some nations, such as the United States and Britain, have refused to adopt the name change.

The National Unity Government's call on Tuesday for a "people's defensive war" received an enthusiastic response on social media, but its effect on the ground is hard to measure.

Media outlets sympathetic to the opposition reported an outburst of small-scale shootings and sabotage by the resistance, particularly the toppling of cellphone transmission towers.

But similar activities have been happening for several months, and details are difficult to independently verify.

The villager who described the new fighting said at least 11 members of the self-defense group were killed, according to what others in his village told him. Photos of what were described to be their bodies circulated widely Friday on the internet and were clear enough to be identifiable to those familiar with them.

"We only have handmade guns and percussion lock firearms," the villager said. "When it rained, the guns became useless. There are many casualties due to the imbalance in weapons." Burma's government troops are well-equipped with modern weapons and have access to air and artillery support.

The villager said other residents told him that most members of the village's defense force are youths and that five of those killed were ninth- and 10th-grade students. A middle-school teacher was also said to have been killed, the villager said.

Members of the more than 2,000 households in the area had fled to the jungle, he added, while soldiers camped in abandoned homes and at the local Buddhist monastery. Four more people were confirmed dead after fighting broke out again Friday morning, he said, and an unknown number of houses were burned.

Reports by independent media outlets put the death toll among the villagers at 20 or more. Khit Thit Media, an online news service, said it was told by villagers that the dead included seven noncombatants.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent organization that keeps detailed tallies of people killed or detained by the military government, 1,058 activists and bystanders have been killed since February's army takeover.

Print Headline: Deaths of villagers reported in clashes with Burma troops

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