The shadow government of ousted former lawmakers in Myanmar has formed an armed militia aimed at opposing the military junta that seized control of the country in a coup on February 1 and killed more than 760 people who protested against the army takeover, organizers said Wednesday.
The National Unity Government said the creation of the People’s Defense Force was exercising the authority given to it with the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in November elections.
The three-week-old NUG said the force is necessary to prevent killings and other violent acts against the people by the junta, which calls itself the State Administration Council.
“Today, May 5, we formed the People’s Defense Force. Preparations for this army were made a long time ago. A lot of time has gone into training,” said Khin Ma Ma Myo, the NUG’s deputy minister of defense.
“Training is more important than manpower and weapons. A defense acquisition department has been established under the Ministry of Defense,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The NUG statement called the PDF a precursor to a “Federal Union Army” which would team up the majority ethnic Burman militia with Myanmar’s many armed ethnic rebel groups to fight the well-trained Myanmar military.
The ethnic groups have been supporting anti-coup dissidents by providing shelter and training, but many powerful ethnic armies have sat out the conflict so far, and some remain distrustful of the NUG, which is made up of representatives of the government they were fighting before the coup.
The Karen National Union, which represents the Karen ethnic minority, whose state in eastern Myanmar has been under attack by junta warplanes, voiced support for the new militia, and is discussing “fighting a common enemy,” according the group’s top foreign affairs official, Padoe Saw Tawnee.
“I think there will be a lot to discuss, such as the formation of units,” he told RFA.
Hla Kyaw Zaw, a Myanmar-based political and military analyst, told RFA the important lesson from the opposition against the coup, called the “Spring Revolution,” is the need for an armed uprising.
“People have learned two valuable lessons from all this. They have learned that they have to fight back with weapons … and that all ethnic groups must unify to fight this military dictatorship,” said Hla Kyaw Zaw.
‘David and Goliath’
The NUG is also attempting to gain recognition from the international community.
At a U.S. House Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday, Myanmar’s representative to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, who was appointed prior to the coup, called on the U.S. and other countries to offer support to the NUG.
“The international community's recognition and engagement with the NUG is a critical step to take, and it could pave the way to end the violence, to save the lives of innocent civilians and protect them from the military’s brutal and inhumane acts, to restore democracy in Myanmar, and provide humanitarian assistance to the people in need,” he said.
Despite the NUG’s optimism, the defense force’s goal of taking on the Myanmar military is unrealistic, said Thein Tun Oo, a former army officer and executive director of the pro-military think tank the Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies.
“They have issued many statements and most of their officials are just working on paperwork for the rival government,” he said.
But in a sign that support for the junta among some ethnic groups is eroding, the Arakan National Party, which represents the Rakhine people in the country’s westernmost state, announced it had halted its cooperation with the junta, which had given a Rakhine leader a seat on the SAC.
The military regime had not met demands for the repeal of the terrorist designation of its affiliate, the Arakan Army, and the release of arrested on terror charges during a two-year-long war, the ANP’s leader said.
“We have made requests and proposals in the interests of our state, but they were all ignored. … We are not happy with the current situation and there is no point of going on like this if we want to see some positive development,” ANP Chairman Thar Tun Hla told RFA.
Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based security analyst who writes for IHS-Janes security and defense publications, told RFA last month that a fight between an alliance of ethnic armed organizations and the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw in Burmese, would be a "David and Goliath contest"
"If you look at all the ethnic armed organizations in Myanmar, you’re looking maybe at around 75,000 to 78,000 armed troops. Now, on the Tatmadaw side, the army is in total probably around 350,000, so it’s significantly larger," he said, speaking before the formation of the NUG in mid-April.
He added, however, that a loose combination of ethnic armies "in their own areas conducting operations against the Tatmadaw at the same time … would be a very, very significant problem for the Tatmadaw despite their firepower and despite their numbers."
Local militias kill troops
Recent days have seen local militias kill junta troops in Chin state, near the border with India, and the downing of a military helicopter in northern Kachin state, as well as a series of attacks in other parts of Myanmar in which outgunned civilians have taken up crude arms and killed more than two dozen security forces.
In the Chin state capital Hakha, the Chin Defense Force said an army soldier was killed in a shootout in front of the Innwa Bank Tuesday night, the latest of nine soldier deaths since May 2.
In a township outside Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, about 20 people armed with machetes and knives attacked a police post guarding a Chinese oil pipeline at dawn on Wednesday, killing three police guards.
"I heard gunshots around 5 a.m. What we learned is that five policemen were on duty at the police post and two escaped. Three died,” a local resident who requested anonymity told RFA. “The military later came to our village and were checking people’s movements and searched houses.”
An unknown attacker threw a hand grenade into the house of the administrator of a village near Tamu in the northwestern Sagaing region, killing his mother, daughter and granddaughter,” a local resident told RFA.
“The administrator was asking people to hand over their arms and was checking houses. This started an exchange of fire between the Tamu Defense Force and the military. During the commotion the house was bombed,” said the resident of Tamu, a city near the border with India where locals had killed 14 soldiers in a series of attacks in late March and early April.
In Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, bombs went off in front of the junta-aligned Moe Gaung Hospital and some ward administrators were attacked and killed, witnesses said.
The bombing followed another bombing Tuesday night of a building that had formerly been the Armed Forces Records Office building and was just opened as a hospital by junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing last weekend. There were no reported injuries in the earlier blast.
RFA attempted to contact military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment on Wednesday’s violence but he could not be reached.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, security forces have killed more than 769 people across the country since the coup. Nearly 3,700 people have been arrested, while nearly 1,460 are at large but facing arrest warrants.
Human Rights Watch and over 200 other nongovernmental organizations from around the world on Wednesday called on the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar.
“No government should sell a single bullet to the junta under these circumstances,” the groups said.
“Imposing a global arms embargo on Myanmar is the minimum necessary step the Security Council should take in response to the military’s escalating violence."
Report by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. English version edited by Eugene Whong.