Soldiers sit in an army truck outside the Central Bank of Myanmar,in Yangon on February 15, 2021. (AFP)

Myanmar junta mulls raising village militias

By AFP

Myanmar’s junta is considering raising village militias to combat opposition to its rule, state media said Tuesday, as it struggles to assert control more than six months after seizing power.

The country has been in turmoil since the civilian government was ousted in a February coup, sparking huge pro-democracy protests and a bloody military crackdown.

Local “self-defence groups” have sprung up to fight the military, often using hunting rifles or weapons manufactured at makeshift jungle factories.

The groups have added to the volatile mix in Myanmar, where more than 20 ethnic armed organizations were already in various stages of conflict with the military before the coup.

The State Administration Council — as the junta dubs itself — has discussed the “systematic formation of village people’s militia troops,” the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar reported Tuesday.

It also discussed rewards for those informing on anti-junta protesters, and the “effective hindering” of established insurgent groups in Myanmar’s border areas who are providing weapons and training, the paper said.

David Mathieson, an analyst formerly based in the country, told AFP it was unlikely many would voluntarily sign up for any militia, given “the widespread anger towards the military.” 

“But also there must be a Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) dilemma in training and arming people who… may turn the training and arms back on you.”

Sporadic fighting continues across the country, with locals in the northwest Sagaing region accusing the military of using artillery during clashes with one group.

Earlier this month Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, who has refused to leave his post after the coup, alerted the world body to a “reported massacre” of 40 people in Sagaing.

Clashes have largely taken place in rural areas, although in June four protesters and at least two military officers were killed in a gun battle in the country’s second city of Mandalay.

More than 1,000 people have been killed by security forces since the coup, according to a local monitoring group. The military says the toll is much lower.

The army has justified its power grab by alleging massive fraud during 2020 elections won by the National League for Democracy in a landslide.

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