The armed opposition to Myanmar’s military junta has inflicted an increasing number of casualties on regime troops and knocked out more than 120 army-owned telecom towers in the past month, sources in the opposition told RFA.
For more than eight months, Myanmar civilians have rejected the Feb. 1 military takeover and have waged armed resistance, with more than 340 People’s Defense Forces (PDF) militias fighting junta troops across the country, analysts said.
The number of armed clashes across Myanmar between PDF fighters and junta soldiers in September more than doubled from the previous month, reaching 132 incidents of conflict, the country’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) said in a statement issued on Thursday.
More than 1,560 junta soldiers have been killed and 552 others have been injured in the month since the NUG called for an armed uprising on Sept. 7, citing months of military oppression after the military deposed the elected government in a coup, the statement said.
The statement did not provide the death toll or number of causalities among PDF fighters.
The junta has violently repressed anti-coup protests, killing at least 1,160 people and arresting 8,817 others, according to the latest figures issued by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Bangkok-based rights group.
Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun rejected the NUG’s count of dead and wounded a forces, saying the military has not suffered as much as the shadow government claims.
“If we had suffered as many casualties as they claim, there wouldn’t be anyone to rule the country,” he said.
Fighting in Sagaing region
Most of the fighting over the past month took place in the northwestern region of Sagaing, according to the NUG.
Boh Nagar, an official from Sagaing’s Pale township PDF, said the attacks were fueled by the military’s brutality toward civilians.
“Realizing the need to take up arms against the oppressive military, Sagaing region has opted for an armed struggle and resisted fiercely,” he told RFA. “More and more troops have been deployed to subdue the resistance, but the military has not been successful so far.”
Though local militias had only Tumee hunting rifles to defend themselves, they were able to fight off the better-armed soldiers, he added.
Local militias also had the advantage of being familiar with Sagaing’s mountainous areas and dense forests, as well as support and assistance from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) to mount a forceful attack against junta soldiers, analysts said.
On Thursday evening, the Kalay PDF in Sagaing attacked junta troops searching for mines on the road near the town’s Technological University. Four soldiers from a convoy of five military vehicles on the road between Htauk Kyant and Thayargon villages south of Kalay were killed by landmines in the attack, the local PDF said.
The seven bombings that occurred on Sept. 7 were the most attacks in one day, with the number of explosions falling by mid-month but rising again in early October, he added.
Telecom towers destroyed
Along with combat, anti-junta forces have damaged or destroyed 120 telecom towers owned by the military-run Mytel telecom company in the past 30 days, according to an RFA tally, with engineers estimating the loss at 20 billion kyats (U.S. $10.3 million). Seven other towers that were hit belonged to other telecom operators.
The towers — in Magway, Sagaing, Mandalay, Ayeyarwady, Bago, and Yangon regions, and in Kachin, Mon, Chin, and Shan states — were struck between Sept. 4 and Oct 7.
An official with the Mandalay region PDF, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said the attacks were in retaliation for the military’s extrajudicial killings and indiscriminate arrests and torture of pro-democracy civilians.
“Mytel makes money that benefits the military, and the latter buys weapons with that money, so if we attack Mytel, we would block the flow of money,” he told RFA.
“Following the blasts, the army has now set up minefields near the Mytel towers.”
An engineer who works with telecom towers told RFA on condition of anonymity that each structure costs 150 million-250 million kyats (U.S. $77,000-$129,000).
“The cost will vary depending on the type of equipment used,” he said.
The military last month announced that it would investigate and prosecute those responsible for the bombings.
A resident in Sagaing’s pale township, who did not want to be named for security reasons, said the military had taken security measures near the towers and warned residents not to go near them.
“The security guards did not stay full-time,” he said. “They came around sunset, walked around, and fired a few shots and left. They told people nearby not to go near the towers.”
“I think they are not here anymore because they set up some landmines,” he added.
Warnings to workers
A tower construction engineer said that the telecom tower staff had been warned by Mytel to notify authorities if they need to do any work on the towers and that security would be provided.
On Sept. 24, a company employee who was repairing a telephone tower in Muse township in northern Shan state was hit by a landmine and suffered serious leg injuries, according to locals.
In Magway’s Yesagyo township, three employees who were refueling a generator at a Mytel tower on Oct. 7 stepped on a mine, and one of them lost his legs, locals said.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said no significant action has been taken at the tower sites.
“There was fencing around the towers in the past,” he said. “Now there may be a need to rebuild the fences in some unsafe areas. There is no reason to do anything special. Any tower, whether it is owned by Mytel or another company, serves the country’s communications.”
The military has cut off internet access to more than 3 million people in 26 townships across Myanmar following the attacks on the telecom towers.
A woman in the Mandalay town of Myingyan, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the army was expanding its forces to crack down on local defense forces in areas where towers were destroyed.
“As more towers were blown up, the military has expanded its presence,” she said.
“Troops were stationed at the entrances and exits of the towns, at intersections, at schools, two or three miles apart,” she said. “Military outposts can be seen deployed between every two or three villages. Internet access has been cut off, causing more problems for people in towns.”
In September, foreign embassies operating in Myanmar issued a statement expressing concern about the internet service shutoffs.
The junta said on Sept. 25 that the service suspension was in response to the destructive work of terrorist groups linked to the NUG, PDFs, and the People’s Defense Army.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.