Myanmar’s security forces have reportedly killed 20 people in clashes with villagers armed with catapults and crossbows in the Ayeyarwady river delta region. If confirmed, the death toll would be one of the worst days of violence in the country in nearly two months.
Khit Thit Media and the Delta News Agency reported that 20 civilians had been killed and more wounded on Saturday, after villagers tried to fight back when soldiers assaulted residents in what they said was a search for arms.
A local monitoring group estimates that some 845 people have been killed by security forces since the army overthrew the country’s democratically elected government on 1 February.
Clashes broke out before dawn on Saturday at the village of Hlayswe, 150km (100 miles) north-west of the main city of Yangon, when soldiers said they had come to search for weapons, at least four local media outlets and a resident said.
“The people in the village only have crossbows and there are a lot of casualties on the people’s side,” said the resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.
State television news said three “terrorists” had been killed and two arrested at Hlayswe as security forces went to apprehend a man accused of plotting against the state.
MRTV state television said security forces had come under attack with compressed air guns and darts. After the shootout, the bodies of three attackers had been found, it said.
A junta spokesman did not answer calls from Reuters to request comment on the violence at the village. Reuters was unable to confirm the death toll independently.
It was some of the worst violence since the coup in the Ayeyarwady region, an important rice growing area that has large populations of both the Bamar majority ethnic group, from which much of the army is drawn, and the Karen minority.
The army has struggled to quell citizens’ anger since it overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi after a decade of democratic reforms had opened up the once isolated state.
Since the coup, conflicts have flared in the borderlands where some two dozen ethnic armies have been waging insurgencies for decades. The junta has also been faced by daily protests and paralysing strikes.
The anti-junta Shwegu People’s Defence Force said it had attacked a police station in northern Shwegu late on Friday together with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
Reuters was unable to reach the KIA for comment.
In eastern Myanmar, the MBPDF (Mobye People’s Defence Force) said it had clashed with the army on Friday and four “terrorist soldiers” had been killed.
Despite the turmoil, Myanmar’s army has shown little sign of heeding calls from its opponents to relinquish its hold. This week, the junta received its first high-profile foreign visitors – the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross and two Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) envoys.
The meeting between junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and the Asean envoys drew anger in parts of Myanmar on Saturday, with an Asean flag being set ablaze in the second city of Mandalay.
An underground opposition government set up by opponents of the junta said after the envoys’ visit on Friday it had lost faith in Asean’s attempts to end the crisis – the main international effort to resolve it.
Thailand on Sunday expressed concern that Myanmar was not heeding the five point “consensus” the junta agreed with Asean in April, which called for an end to violence, political talks and the naming of a regional special envoy.
“We have been following developments in Myanmar closely with much concern, especially incidents of violence in many parts of the country,” foreign ministry spokesperson Tanee Sangrat said in a statement.
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