Armed civilian resistance to the February 1 military takeover in Myanmar has multiplied several folds in the past two months.

This brings in a new dimension to the pro-democracy movement which has so far been peaceful.

But reports of armed resistance by civilian protestors have multiplied across the country, especially after the 15-day heroic resistance by the local militia at Mindat town in the Chin Hills bordering Mizoram. Only when the Burmese army troops started using villagers at shields did the resistance fighters, armed with hunting rifles, catapults and bows-arrows, withdraw into neighbouring hills.

At least 30 Myanmar troops were reportedly killed during two fierce encounters with civilian resistance fighters in Kani and Yinmabin townships in the Sagaing Region bordering northeast India this week.

On Tuesday, around 1,000 civilian resistance fighters using homemade hunting rifles attacked about 60 junta troops deployed at Tayaw Kyin village beside the Monywa-Kalaywa Highway. The village, on the border of Kani and Yinmabin townships in Sagaing Region, was raided by Myanmar troops looking for hidden weapons.

During the six-hour shootout, about 10 troops were killed, commander of a local resistance Force Aung Gyi said.

Then on Wednesday evening, 60 soldiers sent to reinforce the original raiding party was ambushed as the detachment headed out of Monywa towards Tayaw Kyin village.

The reinforcements hit five locally made landmines on the Monywa-Kalaywa highway between Tayar Kyin and Bant Bway villages.

About 20 junta troops were killed in the explosions and the gunfire from resistance fighters, according to ‘commander’ Aung Gyi. He said angry soldiers burned down eight houses near Bant Bway in retaliation.

‘Commander’ Aung Gyi said about 100 troops were now combing the forests around the sites of the encounters.

“They are searching all houses along the highway and the adjoining forests. They are opening fire indiscriminately,” Aung Gyi said, adding he anticipated many civilian casualties in these random firings.

Armed clashes between the troops and resistance fighters started in the area on April 2.

Several thousand villagers in Kani Township have fled their homes to avoid the fighting and regime raids.

Meanwhile, two police officers were reportedly killed by the civilian resistance Zero Guerilla Force during a raid on a police outpost in Mandalay Region’s Nagzon Township on Tuesday night. Zero Force commander U Lwin said that 25 fighters raided the Min Nay Gon outpost in Nganzon Township on Tuesday night.

During the 20-minute firefight, two officers, including a police captain, were killed and the resistance fighters managed to retreat without casualties, U Lwin said. Fifteen police officers were left unharmed.

Zero Guerilla Force has attacked junta forces in Myingyan Township, Mandalay Region, on several occasions. Last Friday, it shot dead a traffic police officer in Myingyan. An army major and captain were shot dead by the group in the town on May 27 and June 3.

“We fight injustice. We will never accept the military regime. We have vowed to fight everything junta-related,” said ‘commander’ Lwin.

Nine civilians, including a family of six, were detained by junta forces during a house raid in Monywa Township, Sagaing Region, on Monday.

After being accused of supplying the People’s Defense Forces, tutor U Tin Myint Soe and his five family members, including a six-year-old girl, were detained along with three house guests by the junta forces during the Aye Tharyar Ward raid. The PDF had attacked an offtake station at Mandalay on the Rakhine-Yunnan pipeline connecting China to the Myanmar coast last month and one of their hideouts was raided by security forces this week.

Two resistance fighters died in the shootout and six were arrested.

The proliferation of armed resistance groups, driven by angry young Bamars (ethnic Burmese), lends a new edge to the five-month-old pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. The resistance fighters are not merely attacking military targets, including their families and their informers, but also Chinese businesses because Beijing is seen as the main backer of the military junta.

The whole idea is aimed at making the military takeover as costly as possible for the generals and their Chinese backers.  No longer can the generals get away shooting dead hundreds on the streets during peaceful protests. The Chinese are also facing an undeclared boycott of goods made in their country. Then you have substantial desertions from the army with reports that 800 soldiers, aged between 20 and 35 and ranging from privates to Majors.

All it now takes is a deep fissure to emerge in the top echelons of the Burmese military, what with reports that many younger generals upset with chief Min Aung Hlaing’s intent to stay chief for life.  One can recount what happened to Pakistani military boss Gen Pervez Musharaff when he wanted to stay chief for life. Perceived loss of opportunity is likely to impact the army’s top brass. When that happens, the military junta will collapse like the proverbial house of cards.

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. He can be reached at: sbhaum@gmail.com