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Many people in Myanmar support the National Unity Government’s (NUG) declaration of war against the military junta despite the threat of added instability and inflation, sources in the country said Wednesday, a day after the shadow government leadership announced the move.
The call to arms and declaration of a state of emergency by NUG interim president Duwa Lashi La Tuesday prompted residents of the country’s biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, to rush to stock up on supplies, while reports of attacks by PDF and armed ethnic groups on government troops and military sites trickled in.
In a video address on social media Duwa Lashi La said the military had not only seized control of the country by force through a Feb. 1 coup d’état, but also violated the livelihoods and property of Myanmar’s 54 million citizens, necessitating its immediate overthrow.
In his address, the leader of the five-month-old NUG said peaceful resistance had failed to convince the junta of the need to hand power back to the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government and that the people of Myanmar would no longer accept oppression “with their heads bowed.”
He also urged People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias and armed ethnic groups to “target the military” and called on local administrators to cease their work, while asking the public to avoid travel and to store food and medicine for the duration of a state of emergency.
On Wednesday, citizens interviewed by RFA’s Myanmar Service said they supported the NUG declaration, which came weeks after it announced plans for a “D-Day” operation to purge the country of the junta through a popular uprising supported by a network of PDF groups formed to protect the public from the military. Several expressed a willingness to join in “the people’s revolution” citing the military’s oppression of innocent civilians since February.
“Almost every day during the past seven months, we have lived a life of fear and anxiety,” said a 35-year-old man in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon, who left his wife and son behind to help unseat the junta.
“Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to join the fight. I don’t care if I must give up my life. I will take part in this battle in any role I can, whether as a runner or a combat soldier.”
A woman in the city said the price of a bag of rice had risen from 46,000 kyats (U.S. $28) to 50,000 kyats overnight following the NUG announcement, while a can of cooking oil rose from 20,000 kyats to 25,000 kyats within the same period.
However, she said that there is “nothing worse than life under military rule” and that she would willingly deal with inflation if it meant a return to democracy for Myanmar.
Even residents of the capital Naypyidaw, which is home to the military leadership, expressed support for the NUG declaration on Wednesday.
“This was a day that the whole community had been looking forward to—the day when we must all unite and fight,” said a man in Pyinmana, near the capital.
“I think the road is now open. I saw some elderly people in their 70s, 80s, talking so enthusiastically about this and we didn’t know whether to laugh or not. They are also trying to find ways to assist through whatever role they can play.”
A 40-year-old man from Monywa in Sagaing region told RFA that he welcomed the announcement and believes the only way forward is to create a new nation through struggle.
“Now the people are awakened. The PDF forces can now come together and carry out plans in a more organized way,” he said.
“If the NUG can continue to provide support for them, the people can begin fighting for a new nation and success will follow sooner or later.”
In the seven months since the coup, security forces have killed 1,054 civilians and arrested at least 6,324, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)—mostly during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.
The junta says it had to unseat Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government because the party engineered a landslide victory in Myanmar’s November 2020 election through widespread voter fraud. It has yet to present evidence of its claims and public unrest is at an all-time high.
Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun dismissed Tuesday’s announcement, calling it an “empty statement” and suggesting that recent arrests of PDF troops and other “terrorists” would render it moot.
Government troops have been carrying out what residents on Wednesday said was a “scorched-earth” clearance operation since Sept. 3 in Sagaing region’s Kalay township, which has been the scene of some of the most frequent and deadly clashes between the military and PDF forces since the February coup.
At least eight people have been killed in the fighting over the past six days, while 16 people were arrested and thousands of villagers have fled their homes to safety, sources told RFA.
A resident of Kalay’s Yeshin village, who declined to be named, said the bodies of the eight were discovered with gunshot wounds along a local road on Monday and have since been cremated. Among them were three PDF members, two men who were interrogated and killed after returning to the area to feed their livestock, and others who may have been workers from elsewhere that came to harvest the local sesame fields, he said.
A representative of the Kalay PDF told RFA that his group had carried out bombings near the military Tactical Command headquarters and main police station in Kalay on Tuesday, while clashes between the militia and the military in Kalay’s Doe New and Kyauk Phu villages had left at least a dozen government troops dead and 10 critically injured since Sept. 3.
RFA was unable to independently verify the number of casualties.
Villagers at risk
Meanwhile, sources told RFA that more than 10,000 people have fled more than a dozen villages in Kalay township since February, and as the military’s presence has grown in the area, it has become increasingly harder for the displaced to get food and medicine.
“It’s real hell, whether you are living in the village or in the jungle,” said a resident of Yeshin village.
“People lack access to clean water and suffer from mosquitoes. The elderly and children have it the worst.”
Sources said that soldiers regularly burn homes when raiding villages or loot them. Troops arrested at least 13 villagers in Kalay’s Tinthar village on Monday and another three the following day, said one resident.
“The military has said they would teach us a lesson and people from all villages in the area are fleeing their homes,” the Tinthar villager said.
A resident of Kalay said security is now very tight in the town, with security forces in civilian clothing stationed at police stations, banks, and office buildings.
“They seem to be gathering intelligence and we feel really insecure,” the resident said.
Sources told RFA that soldiers in Kalay have killed more than 50 people and arrested around 100 in the township.
Chin state clashes
Fighting also broke out between the military and a local militia in Chin state following the NUG announcement when members of the Chinland Defense Force (CDF) attacked government troop positions in Hakha township at around 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday, sources said.
Following the clash, the military launched a mortar attack in the area, wounding a resident and damaging six homes, according to the wounded man’s son, who said he heard around two dozen explosions during the salvo.
On Wednesday, troops were stationed in front of the Marlar Temple and Commercial Bank in Hakha and the atmosphere was tense, he said.
A spokesman for the CDF in Hakha told RFA that his group had suffered no casualties during the Tuesday attack, or during an earlier skirmish on Monday, but said that the driver of a military vehicle was killed in the latter engagement and three other troops were believed “seriously injured.” A civilian was injured by a stray bullet fired by the CDF, he added.
A shootout also occurred on Tuesday evening between the military and the CDF near Kanpetlet Police Station in Chin state, the militia said, although details of the fighting were not immediately clear.
A spokesman for the CDF noted that his group had vowed to follow the NUG declaration and launch a joint uprising against the military and suggested that fighting would escalate in the weeks to come.
“Even before D-Day, we had been hitting them at every opportunity,” he said.
“Now that D-Day has been announced, we have plans for more attacks everywhere. It will be even more severe. I’d like to urge police personnel and soldiers to join hands with the people as soon as possible.”
Calls to military spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun seeking comment on the situations in Sagaing region and Chin state went unanswered on Wednesday.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.