Sleeping by their makeshift barricades, knots of young men at Tahan in the western Myanmar town of Kale had not expected an attack in the pre-dawn darkness.
Armed with a few hunting guns made by village blacksmiths, catapults, some airguns and Molotov cocktails, they were no match for forces hardened by decades of conflict and equipped with combat weapons.
The first barrage of shots and rocket propelled grenades from Myanmar’s army, known as the Tatmadaw, came around 5am on April 7, the protesters and residents of Kale said.
By evening, the one-sided battle was over, the sandbag barricades had been cleared and 13 people were dead, three people involved in the armed group said.
Soldiers deployed on street corners and remain until now.
“So many people on our side were wounded that we couldn’t do anything and had to retreat, ” Aung Myat Thu, one 20-year-old protester in Kale, said from there by messaging app.
Although the resistance in Kale was quickly crushed, it points to a new phase of bloodshed in Myanmar after the Feb 1 coup, with some protesters now seeking to take up arms against the junta’s forces.
The junta did not respond to requests for comment.
The junta-controlled Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said 18 rioters were arrested in Kale after attacking security forces with homemade weapons.
“Some of the members of the security forces were seriously injured, ” it said
Despite the early setbacks, disparate groups are trying to source better weapons, sharpen tactics, share intelligence and get training from some of the two dozen or so existing ethnic armed groups in Myanmar, several opposition politicians said.
“Some small defence units have been formed across the country, in the community, villages or wards, ” said Moe Saw Oo, a spokesman for the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a body representing ousted lawmakers that has set up a rival national unity government.
“At the same time, we are in coordination with ethnic armed organisations about the establishment of a proper defence force, ” he said.
Over 700 people have been killed and more than 3,000 have been detained by security forces cracking down on the nationwide protests that have raged since the military deposed the civilian government led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1.
Even as the fighters in Kale retreated, other groups have sprung up elsewhere.
Acts of sabotage, such as the burning of administrative buildings and attacks on businesses linked to the army have broken out the in the main city of Yangon and the second city of Mandalay.
“It is a sign of the determination and the extreme violence the military has been using against protesters rather than a strategic assessment they can take on the might of the military, ” said analyst Richard Horsey, who recently briefed the UN Security Council on the threat of national collapse.
Among the new groups, the Ayeyarwaddy Federal Army announced its arrival last week in the heartland of the Bamar majority, which forms the core of the armed forces as well as Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
“Armed revolution is the only way to return the people’s power, ” spokesman Mratt Thu Aung said via messaging app. — Reuters