Myanmar army battles anti-coup rebels in northwestern town

Protesters make the three-finger salute during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on May 15, 2021. - AP

YANGON, May 15 (Reuters): Myanmar's army battled local militia fighters in the northwestern town of Mindat on Saturday, residents said, to try to quell a rebellion that has sprung up to oppose the junta that seized power in the South-East Asian country in February.

The fighting in Mindat, Chin state, underlines the growing chaos in Myanmar as the junta struggles to impose authority in the face of daily protests, strikes and sabotage attacks after overthrowing elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The junta imposed martial law in Mindat on Thursday and then stepped up attacks on what it called "armed terrorists". A spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment on the fighting on Saturday.

Residents taking cover in the town said fighting raged on Saturday.

"There are soldiers everywhere," said one man. Video shot by one resident of the hilly town and shared on social media showed a helicopter gunship firing a rocket. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the video.

The Irrawaddy news service said some homes had been destroyed as the army resumed artillery bombardment on Saturday.

"We are living in a nightmare. Mindat is literally a war zone," a 32-year-old resident who gave his name as Mang told Reuters from the town late on Friday.

"They are using heavy artillery, mortar shells against us. We cannot fight that, we are exhausting most of our ammunition and we are risking everything... I think there is a chance we may be slaughtered. We try our best to defend ourselves but we may not last much longer."

Myanmar already had some two dozen ethnic armed groups, who have waged war for decades against an army dominated by the Bamar majority. The Chinland Defence Force was set up in response to the coup.

Reuters was unable to reach the group for comment on Saturday.

The junta-controlled Myanmar News Agency said fighting on Wednesday and Thursday in Mindat involved 100 people who attacked a police station and about 50 targeting the state-run Myanmar Economic Bank.

A local lawmaker said the fighting erupted after the military refused to release seven local youths detained by authorities.

The number of casualties was unclear.

At least 788 people have been killed by the junta's security forces in crackdowns on protests against its rule, according to an advocacy group.

The military, which disputes that number, imposes tight restrictions on media, information and the internet. Reuters cannot independently verify arrests and casualty numbers. - Reuters
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