The siege by the military of a town in the mountains of western Myanmar’s Chin state on Sunday resulted in the death of at least five civilians and “possible commission of war crimes” by army troops, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) said.
The CHRO reported that junta soldiers were shooting civilians on sight and using them as human shields.
Junta troops with heavy artillery and helicopter gunships pounded the town of Mindat, where the military regime had declared martial law Thursday, to subdue a local ethnic militia that had resisted the army with crude hunting guns.
“At least five civilians reported dead and ten injured, and houses and properties destroyed under heavy bombings from air and ground assaults as junta army lay siege on the town of Mindat,” the CHRO said in a Facebook post Sunday.
“The Chinland Defense Force-Mindat said they made a tactical retreat in order to save civilian lives from indiscriminate attacks on the town by junta troops using heavy artillery and helicopter gunships,” the group said, referring to local militia formed last month to defend the town.
“Possible commission of war crimes may have occurred as there appears to be evidence of grave breaches of the Geneva Convention in the battle for control of Mindat town,” said the CHRO.
The Irrawaddy, an independent on-line news outlet, reported that junta troops backed by artillery and helicopters raided Mindat, a town of 20,000 people on Saturday, following several days of fighting after a ceasefire broke down on Wednesday.
The report quoted residents as saying eight Chinland resistance fighters were killed and approximately 20 were injured in shootouts in Mindat with the security forces, according to residents.
“Junta troops also used 18 detained civilians as human shields while entering the town, according to residents,” the Irrawaddy reported.
“Troops are now deployed across the town and are opening fire on anyone on the streets,” it added in a report Sunday. RFA was unable to immediately confirm the account.
In a Facebook post Sunday, the Chinland Defense Force (CDF) voiced “respect and condolences to the families” of members Mang Kee Thang, Hung Awm Hung, Kee Tam, Thang Phep, Ha Khui Shing, and Khui Shing Ning, who had “donated (their) life while fighting for the public.”
Counting the six dead Chin fighters, the Thailand-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said that as of Sunday, at least 796 people have been killed by the junta, and 3998 are in detention.
The attacks on civilians drew criticism from the U.S. embassy in Yangon and by rights groups.
“The military’s use of weapons of war against civilians, including this week in Mindat, is a further demonstration of the depths the regime will sink to to hold onto power. We call on the military to cease violence against civilians,” the embassy said in its Twitter account Sunday.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the siege of Mindat and reported abuses of local residents there comports with the Myanmar army’s “long record of wantonly disregarding human rights and failing to protect civilians in its operations.”
Thursday’s martial law declaration set the stage for the junta “to act with impunity against the people of the town, including indiscriminate attacks, disproportionate use of force, and mass roundups of suspected activists, including any men and boys who remain in the town,” he said in a statement Sunday.
Chin, a poor and mountainous state on Myanmar’s western border with Bangladesh and India, is home to about a half million mostly Christian citizens.
Mindat and the eight other townships in Chin state were among the first areas in Myanmar to form local militias to resist the junta’s security forces in response to violent crackdowns on protests against the military’s seizure of power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government on Feb. 01. (Source: RFA)