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Myanmar Crisis

Attacks on Myanmar military spike following call for revolt

Pro-democracy camp abandons nonviolence amid growing crackdown

There are believed to be between 120 and 300 militias under the People's Defense Force banner across Myanmar. (Photo taken from Facebook)

BANGKOK/YANGON -- Clashes between the Myanmar military and a growing resistance movement called the People's Defense Force have intensified following calls for open uprisings by the parallel government formed by ousted politicians and activists.

The PDF consists of militias that have been formed throughout Myanmar since May by citizens opposing military rule. The National Unity Government, launched by Myanmar's democratically elected leaders pushed out by the military in February, has limited direct control over these groups, which each make their own military decisions.

About 120 to 300 militias under the PDF now exist across Myanmar, with a total estimated membership of 20,000 to 30,000 fighters, according to experts who have closely monitored the escalating attacks.

The Chinland Defense Force, a leading resistance group within the PDF, and a local ethnic armed organization clashed with the military in Chin state on Saturday, local news outlet Myanmar Now reported. The Chinland Defense Force issued a statement claiming to have killed 30 soldiers. Roughly 20 homes have been destroyed in Thantlang town, in Chin state, due to military shelling, leading thousands of residents to flee to neighboring towns and border areas, said reports.

Clashes between PDF militias and the military have been intensifying in Myanmar's northwestern and central areas in particular. PDF fighters in the central region of Magway attacked the military on Sept. 15, claiming that it killed six and injured one. On the other hand, at least 18 non-military personnel, including PDF members, died in the region during a separate clash from Sept. 9 to Sept. 10.

No major skirmishes have broken out in Yangon, and the center of Myanmar's largest city continues to bustle with cars and pedestrians. But six explosions occurred in Hlaingthaya township in Yangon where many garment factories locate on Sept. 14. Trained militants are believed to be waiting in the city for the right time to strike.

The recent escalation in hostilities follows a call for a national uprising by NUG acting President Duwa Lashi La, delivered through a Facebook video on Sept. 7. Over 40 explosions were recorded across Myanmar that day, according to the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

While pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has called for nonviolence in the past, the NUG is taking a new tack amid growing disillusionment with the international community. The United Nations began its General Assembly on Sept. 14, but the body is unlikely to exert enough pressure on the military government for it to change its tone.

The NUG is calling for an armed uprising "because nonviolence can no longer protect civilians from military atrocities," Japanese lawmaker Michihiro Ishibashi quoted a NUG official as saying during their online meeting on Sept. 8.

"We sought help from the international community, but it did nothing," the official reportedly said.

Military authorities in Myanmar have responded to the escalating violence by cracking down on potential resistance movements, including raiding private homes for unregistered guests.

"There's more of a concern that employees or your family will be caught up in the crackdown than there is of explosions or an armed clash" at least in Yangon, said an employee at one Japanese company here.

In addition to public safety issues, Myanmar's military government also faces mounting economic challenges. Myanmar's currency has lost over 10% of its value in two weeks, going for about 1,975 kyat to the dollar at local money changers as of Tuesday.

Much of the plunge came after the Central Bank of Myanmar on Sept. 10 reversed a rule issued in early August, which had kept exchange rates within 0.8% of the reference rate. The rule only drove more exchanges underground, with the dollar trading for as much as 2,020 kyat at one point on the black market. As such, the central bank was forced to withdraw it in a month or so.

With no end in sight to the political turmoil, Myanmar has few avenues to earn foreign currencies. A weakening kyat could lead to higher prices for gasoline and other imported products.

"The military has taken the reins of government, but they haven't been able to take control of public safety or the economy," a local resident said.

However, with more than 350,000 members, the Myanmar military significant outguns the PDF. Pro-democracy factions have said they will fight to the end and are encouraging soldiers to defect, and hostilities in the country are expected to drag on.

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