Myanmar’s anti-coup fighters withdraw from the city when the US appeals

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A protester shows the three-finger salute during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb.21, 2021. REUTERS / Stringer

(Reuters) – Local militia fighters against Myanmar’s junta have withdrawn from the northwestern city of Mindat after days of attack by artillery-backed combat troops, a member of the group said on Sunday.

The United States and Britain urged the army to avoid civilian casualties and a shadow national unity government formed by loyalists to the imprisoned elected leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi appealed for international aid.

A junta spokesman did not respond to comments.

The fighting in the mountain town of Mindat, about 100 km from the Indian border in Chin state, is among the worst since the coup, which plunged Myanmar into chaos with daily protests, strikes and the emergence of new local militias.

“To avoid confrontation, we withdrew out of concern about damage to the city,” said one fighter, adding that only women and children remained in the city of more than 40,000 inhabitants, which was now largely occupied by the army.

“Since all boys and men are involved in this fight, they are all on the run.”

The US-funded RFA (Radio Free Asia) website quoted a member of the group as saying that five of its fighters had been killed, but believed it had inflicted multiple casualties on the army widely known as the Tatmadaw.

The local Chinworld news website said the Chinland Defense Force had captured three traffic cops and one “informant” and would execute them if the army did not release Chin prisoners. Reuters was unable to contact the group for comment and there was no independent confirmation that they had taken prisoners.

Army-controlled Myawaddy TV announced on Saturday that some security forces had been killed and others were missing after attacks by “unscrupulous people” in Mindat. Two more attacks on security forces were reported on Sunday – one in Kanpetlet, also in Chin state, and the other in Shwegu, northern Myanmar.

Chin is a predominantly Christian state in the predominantly Buddhist country.

NEW POWER

The fighting in Mindat marks the emergence of the Chinland Defense Force, one of several new groups rebelling against the junta in a country with around two dozen armed ethnic groups.

The militants also say they are part of the People’s Defense Forces of the shadow government, which the international community has asked for help.

“We are sad that we cannot protect the people in Mindat. I salute the heroes in Mindat as well as the people in Myanmar who risk their lives to withstand the brutal repression of the junta,” said their Prime Minister Mahn Win Khaing Than one Message.

“We hope people understand that it will take time to train and equip the army.”

The US and UK embassies in Myanmar have expressed concern about the civilian population in Mindat.

“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 remain in power,” the US embassy said in a statement. “We call on the military to stop violence against civilians.”

The UK mission said evidence of atrocities should be sent to UN investigators “so that the perpetrators can be held accountable”.

New York-based Human Rights Watch feared arbitrary arrests, torture, retaliation against family members of militants and other abuses, Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said in a statement.

Western nations have condemned the junta and imposed limited sanctions since it took power for fraud in an election won by Suu Kyi’s party in November. Their allegations of irregularities were rejected by the electoral commission.

At least 790 people were killed by junta security forces in raids against protests against their rule, says the activist group of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The military, which denies this number, have placed severe restrictions on the media, information, and the Internet. Reuters cannot independently verify arrests and casualty numbers.

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