Cold, Frightened and Armed: In Myanmar’s Jungles, a Struggling Resistance

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The army has intensified attacks on militias opposing his rule, driving thousands into the hills. A shadow government has called for a nationwide rebellion.

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Myanmar troops, descending with flamethrowers and heavy weapons, attacked the village of Yay Shin deep in the foothills of the Himalayas just after dusk.

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Several residents said over the phone that seizing old AK-47s smuggled from India and Thailand, members of a self-proclaimed People’s Defense Force retaliated, so that the rest of the villagers could enter the hills.

Eight bodies of villagers were later found, along with eight soldiers killed in the fighting. By the time the 77th and 99th Battalions left Yei Shin this month, what remained of a small village in northwestern Myanmar was just the smoldering ruins of a village that dared to take up arms against the military’s February coup Was.

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Seven months after ousting Myanmar’s elected government, the country’s fearsome army, known as the Tatmadaw, is ramping up immediate armed resistance and attacking the villages where its members live. It is a pattern of slaughter that Tatmadaw has inflicted over the decades on various ethnic minorities such as the Rohingya, whose forced expulsion from the country the United States considers ethnic cleansing.

Now, Myanmar’s military is targeting a large section of society, and its brutal campaign has sparked an even stronger resistance, even as civilians are again caught in the crossfire. Almost everyone living in Yai Shin is now camping in the valley of the jungle with venomous snakes, malaria and dengue, children moaning from hunger and severe cold. According to members of the People’s Defense Force, residents of dozens of other villages in the Kalaya region, a stronghold of the army’s protest, have also fled into the forest.

“We have already laid down our lives for the country,” Jaw Win Sheen, a company commander for the rebels, said over the phone from the jungle hideout, as the thunder of army helicopters echoed overhead. A former employee of a telecommunications company, Mr. Zaw Win Sheen needed about 10 minutes to prepare himself before his hoarse sobs subsided in a frightened whisper.

He said, ‘We are more afraid of soldiers than snakes.

Last week, days after the Ye Shin raids, the National Unity Government – a shadow government set up by opposition politicians – reiterated its call for an armed rebellion, declaring that “D-Day” had arrived. Its working president Duva Lashi La said in a video circulated on social media that it was time for “a nationwide uprising in every village, town and city across the country at the same time”.

The video inspires a population that is largely united against the military regime, which has killed more than 1,000 protesters and spectators since the coup. Local militias issued renewed calls for war, while Myanmar citizens expressed enthusiastic support on social media.

Junta spokesman Major General Jae Min Tun dismissed the call to arms as “an empty statement”. But the Tatmadaw intensified its raids on villages such as Yei Shin, targeting dozens of them as it looked for members of the People’s Defense Force, residents said.

On Thursday, the Tatmadaw landed in the village of Myin Thar, about 25 miles from Yee Shin, and surrounded the men who had stayed to defend the community, armed with house hunting rifles. At least 17 of them, mostly boys, were killed with a single shot to the head, said Hete Win, a Mayan Thar resident, who fled into the forest.

“I am proud that he died defending the village,” said Ma Nyo Nyo Lwin, the mother of 18-year-old Ko Hete Ning Oo, who was among those killed.

The National Unity government has said it had no choice but to urge an armed rebellion. Working covertly, the shadow authority has not convinced a single country to recognize it as legitimate, and hopes are not high that much will change when the UN General Assembly convenes this week.

The United States and Britain have urged all parties to refrain from violence in Myanmar, as has a panel of international experts.

“Violence is what causes Myanmar’s suffering, it is not the solution,” said Chris Sidoti, a former Australian human rights commissioner who is on the panel. “We sympathize with the national unity government but we fear what will happen as a result of this decision,” he said, referring to the call to arms.

From Myanmar’s countryside and minority-dominated border areas to cities where the return of military rule, after a decade of economic and political reforms, has angered a younger generation, pockets of armed insurgency spanned months across Myanmar. are spread. He had become accustomed to interacting with the outside world.

Thousands of civilians, some of them young city-dwellers more familiar with video games than actual combat, have received covert military training. Along with ethnic rebels fighting the Tatmadaw for decades, he has helped fill the ranks of the People’s Defense Force.

Chhaya Sarkar said the People’s Defense Force killed more than 1,320 soldiers in July and August. The statement was impossible to confirm, partly because the Tatmadaw does not issue casualties of its own, lest morale in its ranks is already low, further sinking.

Following the announcement of “D-Day” last week, the resistance tore down more than 65 telecommunications towers owned by the military-linked company, Mitel, said Kyawt Fay, a spokesman for the People’s Defense Force in the central city of Pakokku.

On Thursday, an army convoy was attacked with a grenade in the country’s largest city of Yangon, an attack that many believe was also carried out by the People’s Defense Force. In recent weeks, unexplained killings of local government officials and suspected informers have also left those loyal to the military uneasy.

The fiercest resistance is taking place in remote areas where Tatmadao artillery fire has pushed entire villages into the jungle. Grain images shot on cheap cellphones show Yay Xin’s dazed families sitting on the forest floor, with things scattered around them, such as cooking utensils and rain-soaked bedrolls.

“Now, I only hear bombs and gunfire,” said Yu Zaw Tint, a carpenter from Ye Shin. “Those voices are stuck in my head.”

Ma Radi Om, a university lecturer, is part of a civil disobedience movement that has deprived the military government of hundreds of thousands of educated workers for seven months, in the hope that administrative paralysis will break the junta. Till now the army has only tightened its action.

This month, Ms. Ready Om, Yay Shin and other kalays, guarded by members of the Jan Defense Force, slipped into the woods to deliver basic medical care to residents of the villages. At least 15 of Ye Xin’s women are pregnant and one has miscarried due to the stress, he said. In the absence of shelter, many people sleep under trees, making them the prey of mosquitoes.

Ms. Ready Om has dengue, the child has become ill, although she cannot get tested. Equally worrying, she said, at least 1,000 of the estimated 7,000 people in various forest cantonments in Kalaya are showing symptoms of Covid-19, such as loss of taste and low oxygen levels. Myanmar is devastated by the delta version, and the military is refusing to care for those thought to support the resistance.

The distance between forest camps is at least 10 miles. Ms. Ready Om treks on foot, through swollen streams and on slippery trails from the rain. Witnesses said villagers dive under boulders or large trees when Tatmada helicopters or drones pounce on the roof. Dozens of people have been killed in military airstrikes.

“I just hope that I can help some people dying of illness and miscarriages,” said Ms. Ready Om. “It’s heartbreaking.”

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