More Than 1,100 Myanmar Troops Killed in Clashes With Local Militias Over Two Months

At least 1,130 Myanmar soldiers were killed and 443 wounded in more than 700 clashes between junta forces and local militias across the country from June 1 to July 31, Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) said in a report released on Aug. 9.

More than 350 civilians were killed, and nearly 140 wounded, during the same period, the NUG’s Defense Ministry said, adding that government losses occurred during armed clashes and in targeted assassinations of military informants and others working for the junta.

At least five junta soldiers were killed in Sagaing region’s Kalay township alone during fighting with the local People’s Defense Force (PDF) on Thursday, with villagers fleeing their homes near the scenes of fighting, local sources said.

Attempts this week to reach government spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Tun for comments on the report were unsuccessful, but Thein Tun Oo—executive director of the Thayninga Strategic Studies Institute, a pro-military think tank based in Yangon—called the NUG figures for Myanmar military deaths exaggerated.

“There may have been military casualties, but to say these were in the thousands is too much. Frankly, this makes it look as if an entire army division had been wiped out,” he said, adding, “These numbers have been inflated.”

NUG Defense Minister Ye Mon was unavailable for comment on the report. A spokesman for the NUG’s People’s Defense Force in southern Myanmar’s Bago region said however that figures for the report were taken from official media outlets and reports from PDFs across the country.

“The death toll on our side is precise. The toll on the military side was the closest and most accurate we could work out. We can guarantee more than 90 percent accuracy,” he said, adding that the high death toll for government soldiers was due to local civilians’ and PDF forces’ will to fight and knowledge of their local terrain.

Fighting is likely to intensify over the next few months, said Khun Thomas, a spokesperson for the Karenni National Defense Force (KNDF), which is waging a war against government troops in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state.

“There was a clash yesterday. And on the previous day, on Aug. 11, fighting broke out near Ngwe-daung village in Phruso township. The military was using heavy weapons. There is also fighting in Pekon township.”

“The fighting is not going to stop. In fact, I’d say it will gradually get worse,” he said.

Five killed in Sagaing

In northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region on Thursday, at least five government soldiers were killed and a local militia member wounded when fighting broke out about 15 miles from Kalay town, a member of the Kalay People’s Defense Force told RFA.

Clashes broke out when about 70 soldiers entered three villages in the township looking for PDF fighters, the fighter said.

“There was fighting from 2:30 p.m. to 7:20 p.m., and five [government soldiers] were killed. One of our people was hit by shrapnel from a mortar shell, but he’s not in serious condition. Another was hit by a rock that flew out from an explosion,” he said.

Local villagers said that soldiers fired heavy weapons and searched houses in the villages, forcing more than 5,000 people to flee their homes.

“People have not been able to go back to their homes yet. The soldiers are still there,” said one resident of Kalay’s Natchaung village, speaking on condition of anonymity for reasons of security. “More fighting could break out at any time, and so everyone is taking shelter outside the village waiting for them to leave.”

A resident of Kalay town said that security was tightened in the town on Thursday after an explosion and gunfire were heard at around 9:00 p.m.

“It’s always like that. They come out in force every time they hear gunfire, and in the evening they drive around in cars with automatic weapons at the ready, even when nothing is happening,” he said.

“The bomb was pretty powerful,” he added. “Even our house was shaken, and about 20 minutes later we heard gunshots.”

'Junta fully responsible'

Hla Kyaw Zaw—a Myanmar political analyst based in Beijing—told RFA that Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and his military, which overthrew the country’s democratically elected government in a Feb. 1 coup, bear full responsibility for the escalating conflict in the country and growing numbers of civilian deaths.

“It’s not wrong to use violence against those who brutally crack down on well-behaved and peaceful protesters,” Hla Kyaw Zaw said. “Therefore, the ruling Military Council, which represents the military dictatorship, is totally responsible for this problem.”

“It looks like it’s going to be a long fight,” he said.

“More and more people will get hurt or killed because they, the military, have the more advanced weapons. But if the people can gradually stage a revolt with whatever weapons they can get hold of, they can overthrow this dictatorship,” he said.

Writing in the Asia Times last week, Myanmar analyst Anthony Davis noted that PDFs have risen from beginnings as a few "ill-organized groups" in Sagaing and neighboring Chin state in April to about 125 separate urban and rural groups by late July.

"At ground level, the impact of PDFs has been palpable though hardly decisive," he wrote.

Davis said the PDFs' prospects against the better armed and trained Tatmadaw, the Burmese name for the military, depends greatly on how well they can work with longstanding ethnic insurgent groups that have fought the Myanmar army for decades.

"Building a capacity for sustained resistance aimed at exploiting the Tatmadaw’s weaknesses confronts both the NUG and PDFs with a daunting array of challenges," he wrote.

"Not least is the need to develop a strategy for protracted guerrilla conflict aimed initially at survival over the coming year, denying the Tatmadaw the consolidation of its coup and eroding the morale of its personnel at field level."

On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military overthrew the country’s democratically elected government, claiming voter fraud had led to a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party in the country’s November 2020 election.

The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide demonstrations calling for a return to civilian rule.

According to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 968 civilians were killed by police and soldiers between Feb. 1 and Aug. 13.

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