A protester carries a placard in support of the newly formed National Unity Government during a demonstration in Yangon's Thingangyun Township on April 30. (AFP)
A protester carries a placard in support of the newly formed National Unity Government during a demonstration in Yangon's Thingangyun Township on April 30. (AFP)

Unity govt announces ‘people’s defence force’

The underground National Unity Government has announced its own anti-junta armed force as a precursor to a “federal union army”.

By AFP

Myanmar’s underground National Unity Government said Wednesday it has set up a “people’s defence force” to protect civilians, as the police and military deploy deadly arms against anti-coup protesters.

So far, nearly 770 people have been killed in deadly crackdowns, according to local monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – though the junta has a far lower death toll which it blames on “rioters”. 

The NUG, which was formed in mid-April by ousted MPs and ethnic leaders to challenge the ruling junta, announced their own armed force to “stop the [junta’s] use of violence against people”.

It is intended as a precursor to a “federal union army”, the NUG said in a statement – referring to the idea of bringing anti-coup dissidents together with Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups to form a unified front against the Tatmadaw.

Some, but not all, ethnic armed groups have condemned the military coup and the use of violence against unarmed civilians. Some are also providing shelter and even training to dissidents who flee into their territories. 

But the more than 20 groups – drawn from different ethnic minorities that have long sought autonomy from the central government – largely distrust the ethnic Bamar majority, including leading members of National League for Democracy, which dominates the NUG.

An official of the Karenni National Progressive Party – which has said it is sheltering anti-coup dissidents in Kayah State – expressed scepticism at the NUG announcement. 

“As far as I know, it is the people themselves who walk into the jungle and receive the training from the [ethnic armed organisations]… it is not decided by the NUG,” said KNPP vice-chair Khu Oo Reh. 

He added that while the NUG has spoken with several ethnic armed groups about a militia made up of civilians, “I have no idea what their intentions are.” 

A representative of another armed group along Myanmar’s eastern border with Thailand, which declined to be named, called the statement “confusing”. 

Before the NUG’s announcement on Wednesday, some communities across Myanmar – especially in townships that have seen a high death toll at the hands of police and soldiers – have formed local “defence forces” for their areas. 

State media reported on Tuesday night that five protesters – including a former MP from the NLD – were killed when they tried to plant a bomb in Bago Region. 

Bombs have exploded sporadically across the country in recent weeks, especially in Yangon. The junta has blamed some of the blasts on “instigators”. 

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