As spate of killings continues, anti-junta forces warn of more to come

Four months after seizing power, Myanmar’s military is facing a new challenge to its efforts to bring the country under its control—the use of guerrilla tactics by some of its opponents.

After facing brutal crackdowns around the country, elements within the anti-coup movement have decided that the time has come to start fighting violence with violence.

While peaceful protests continue—albeit on a far smaller scale than in the early days of the movement—they have been increasingly overshadowed in recent weeks by almost daily reports of shootings and bombings.

One of the most recent came on Tuesday afternoon, when a lone gunman shot at two soldiers stationed outside the No. 32 Basic Education High School in Mandalay’s Pyigyidagun Township, killing one and injuring the other.

Unlike many such incidents, this one could be attributed to a particular group—the Mandalay People’s Defence Force (PDF), part of a nationwide network of local civilian resistance forces that aims to coalesce into a federal army.

“Our PDF team has started carrying out guerrilla activities in Mandalay,” said Bo Nat Khat, one of the group’s leaders. He also claimed responsibility for a recent series of small explosions in five townships.

Speaking to Myanmar Now by phone, he also acknowledged that the shift to more confrontational tactics could make life more dangerous for ordinary citizens.

“We don’t want people to go to crowded places such as the electricity office or the courts,” he warned. 

He insisted, however, that the only civilian targets would be officials and others who have collaborated with the regime in its bid to cement its hold on power.  

“We have plans to handle informants giving trouble to the people. We’ll be unveiling more soon,” he said. 

A police officer walks past a high school in Yangon on June 1 (EPA)

Urban warfare

As guns and homemade bombs replace posters demanding democracy as the chief weapons of the resistance, Myanmar’s cities could see a surge in the kind of hit-and-run attacks long deployed by armed groups based along the country’s borders.

Barely a month after young city dwellers began to head to remote areas to receive military training, anti-junta forces have already started hitting army bases and other locations associated with the junta’s oppression. 

On Tuesday, an explosion targeting Supply and Transport Battalion 323, based in Yangon’s Mingaladon Township, destroyed a transport vehicle, according to a member of a guerrilla team that claimed responsibility for the attack.

The vehicle was observed coming and going from the base for several days before it was blown up, he said, adding that bigger attacks were also planned.

“We have plans to handle informants giving trouble to the people. We’ll be unveiling more soon.”

Blasts were also reported near Yangon’s infamous Insein prison, where many of the thousands detained since the coup are being held on charges of incitement and other offenses.

More ominously, there were also two shooting deaths in Yangon on Tuesday—one in Hlaing Tharyar Township, where a crackdown left at least 58 dead in a matter of days in March, and another in Mayangon Township.

The victim of the first attack was Sai Lin Zaw, a member of the junta’s township administration who was also allegedly a local leader of “Pyu Saw Htee,” a group said to have been formed in the wake of the coup to counter resistance to the regime.

The other was a ward administrator—one of a number of junta-appointed officials killed in recent weeks on suspicion of informing on anti-coup activists.

According to the guerrilla team member who spoke to Myanmar Now about the Mingaladon blast, the shootings were carried out by associated groups.

He said the groups intended to inform the public about their activities in the coming days.

A soldier boards a school bus outside a high school in Yangon on June 1 (EPA)

Sparing civilians

Urban guerrilla groups say that even as they step up their use of war tactics against the regime, they remain committed to protecting the lives of innocent civilians.

According to Mandalay PDF leader Bo Nat Khat, that means avoiding any area where members of the public could be harmed by attacks carried out by the group or military reprisals.

“Mainly, we promise the people that we won’t do anything harmful in crowded public places,” he said.

However, there is always the danger that the regime or its allies could plant bombs in such areas in order to discredit the PDF, he added.   

“If that happens, it’s not our doing. I’d just like to say it’s the military council deceiving the public,” he said.

At a press conference held in Naypyitaw on May 15, junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told journalists that “terrorists” were targeting government buildings and other public places in order to foment unrest now that protests have died down.

“Mainly, we promise the people that we won’t do anything harmful in crowded public places.”

He said there were up to 57 attacks with handmade bombs and Molotov cocktails in township education administration offices and schools in April and May.

But a member of one Yangon-based guerrilla group said that under no circumstances would he or any other member of his team endanger anyone who was not connected to the regime.

“If there are bombs and shots in places where civilians are, it’s not us. It’s just the Pyu Saw Htee, backed by the junta,” he said.



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