Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), set up by opponents of army rule, said on Wednesday it had formed a “people’s defence force” to protect its supporters from military attacks and violence instigated by the military government.
Since the military seized power and ousted an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, Myanmar has seen daily protests and a surge of violence with security forces killing hundreds of civilians.
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The NUG said the new force was a precursor to a Federal Union Army and that it had a responsibility to end decades-old civil wars and deal with “military attacks and violence” by the ruling State Administration Council (SAC) against its people.
The unity government, established last month by an array of groups opposed to the junta, among them ethnic minority militias, has pledged to end violence, restore democracy and build a “federal democratic union”.
Among the NUG’s supporters is the Karen National Union (KNU), the country’s oldest rebel force, whose Brigade 5 on Wednesday told the Karen Information Center media group its fighters had killed 194 government troops since hostilities resumed in late March.
The National Unity Government announced on Wednesday that it had formed a People's Defence Force as an initial step towards establishing a federal army in response to attacks by the coup regime's military across the country. Further details about the PDF have not been released. pic.twitter.com/4mwan4tlXP
— Myanmar Now (@Myanmar_Now_Eng) May 5, 2021
A young activist in Mandalay on Wednesday told Reuters news agency he was planning to join the federal army to “help fight against the Tatmadaw [military]” and that networks of activists had mobilised to train in the jungles.
A spokesman for the military government did not answer a call seeking comment.
The military ruled Myanmar from 1962 to 2011, before launching a tentative transition to democracy and sweeping economic reforms.
The coup halted that, angering many people unwilling to put up with another phase of military rule.
Myanmar’s well-equipped army, known as the Tatmadaw, is one of the region’s most battle-hardened forces.
Despite that, its opponents have in some places been using crude weapons to fight troops, while others have sought training with ethnic armies who have battled the military since independence in 1948 from remote border areas.
The military said it had to seize power because its complaints of fraud in a November election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD) party were not addressed by an election commission that deemed the vote fair.
Since then, there have been daily protests and a surge of violence since the coup with security forces killing more than 760 civilians, according to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) rights monitoring group.
The military disputes the AAPP figure and has banned the group.
It acknowledged 248 deaths in mid-April and in addition says 24 police and soldiers have been killed in the protests.
Independent media have been unable to verify casualties because of curbs placed by the military rulers.
Many of the journalists are also among the thousands of people who have been detained.
Aside from the daily crackdown on protesters, the Myanmar military have also launched targeted strikes on ethnic groups in Karen and Kachin States, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes – some across the border into Thailand.
The latest development comes as thousands of people continue to defy the violent crackdown by staging protests across the country.
In Mandalay, hundreds of people rode their motorcyles and marched to denounce the military and demand that they turn over power to the civilian government.
Similar scenes were also reported in Monywa and Shewebo townships in the Sagaing region, as well as in Hpakant in Kachin State, according to various social media posts.
A “guerilla-type” protest was also staged in Bahan district of Yangon, while students posted pro-NUG signs at Yangon’s West University.
There have also been reports of intense clashes between the Northern Alliance group and the government forces, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of residents near Kutkai town in Shan State.
Al Jazeera, however, could not independently verify the reports due to restrictions.