Myanmar’s military has finally taken control of the small town of Mindat in the country’s western Chin state, after three weeks of savage fighting.
The local militia Mindat Defense Force (MDF) says its fighters have retreated from the town in nearby hills after three weeks of brave resistance.
MDF spokesman “John” told IANS that Myanmar military troops entered the town on Sunday evening using villagers as shields.
“How can we shoot at our own people? The Tatmadaw (military) had taken many villagers hostage from areas around Mindat and put them in front of their advancing columns. That is when our leaders decided to withdraw from the town,” said John, who has refused to disclose his full name because his family was left behind at Mindat.
Nearly 300 to 350 local Chins had joined the MDF three weeks ago to stop the Tatmadaw from entering the town.
The army was forced to use helicopters to bring in troop reinforcements, as at least three of its road convoys were ambushed.
Later, it started pounding the town with artillery fire.
Local residents in Mindat set up what they called a People’s Administration Team, stating that they did not recognise the authority of the military government.
Last week, the government declared martial law in the town. It has described those defying its authority there as terrorists, and says it will set up a military tribunal to put on trial those responsible for attacks on the security forces.
The defense at Mindat has become the symbol of resistance, initially peaceful but now armed as well to the February 1 military takeover.
The crisis caused by the takeover has now snowballed into a full scale civil war with large ethnic rebel armies like Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and Karen National Union (KNU) reneging on ceasefire they had maintained with Aung Saan Suu Kyi’s NLD government.
Both groups are sheltering, training and arming ethnic Burmese hardliners who have organised themselves into urban insurgent groups like the Federal Army and United Defense Force.
Some of these insurgents have entered Burmese cities and attacked police informers and Chinese business interests including an offtake station on the 800 km oil-gas pipeline connecting Kyaukphyu on Myanmar’s Rakhine coast with China’s Yunnan province.
Last week, Burmese beauty queen Htar Htet Htet hit the social media, gun on shoulder and dressed in military fatigues, with an appeal to bring down the military junta.
Htar claimed that she was now a member of one of the insurgent groups.
MDF spokesman John said their fighters have braved massive artillery barrages and several infantry charges by the Tatmadaw troops.
Six of their fighters have died in the fighting against more than 25 Tatmadaw troops who were killed in ambushes.
The Chins are ethnic cousins of the Mizos in India and doughty hill fighters.
“Our fighters were armed with local hunting rifles. Our ammunition ran out and we decided to spare the town any more artillery bombardment,” he told IANS.
Mindat is one of several towns where opponents of the military have armed themselves.
This happened after nearly 800 people were killed in indiscrimnate firing by troops and policemen during largely peaceful protests after the February coup which ousted the elected government of Suu Kyi.
“We will not stay any more in the town, but we will come back to attack soon,” John told IANS.
“We only have homemade guns. This was not enough. We retreated out of concern over damage to the town. We will get proper weapons to assault the Tatmadaw.”
With fighting taking place so close to the India-Myanmar border, it is being feared that a large-scale migration of refugees from the neighbouring country into India’s Mizoram state might take place.
Meanwhile, the US and the UK have condemned the violence. India has been silent.
“The military’s use of weapons of war against civilians, including this week in Mindat, is a further demonstration of the depths the regime will sink to hold onto power,” the US Embassy said in a statement.
“Attacks on civilians are illegal and cannot be justified,” the British embassy said.