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Fear and defiance as fighting rages in Myanmar

SAGAING, MYANMAR (AFP) – Anti-coup fighters in Myanmar patrol the smouldering ruins of a burned village after what they say was a reprisal attack by junta troops struggling to crush resistance to last year’s military coup.

Corrugated roofs, support beams and cooking utensils are all that remain amid the ash in the village in northwestern Sagaing – an area which has seen some of the fiercest fighting against the military’s power grab.

Rare footage obtained by AFP shows a region wracked by violence, and criss-crossed by junta troops, pro-military militias and anti-coup fighters, where Internet access is regularly cut by authorities.

Win Soe said junta troops brought destruction to his village of Tharyarkone, about 100 kilometres west of Myanmar’s second city Mandalay, late last month.

“Soldiers came to our village on their way back to their camp,” he said.

“There had been no fighting here and they just came to destroy things – they torched 60 houses in our village,” Win Soe said.

Anti-coup fighters receive flowers from local residents in a township in Myanmar’s northwestern Sagaing region. PHOTO: AFP

A group of about a dozen young men – some in combat fatigues, football socks and sneakers, others in shorts and sandals – arrived to survey the burned remnants of the village as they patrolled the district, trailing military forces.

The unit is part of a local “People’s Defence Force” (PDF), dozens of which have sprung up in Sagaing and across the country to fight the military in an attempt to overturn the coup that last year ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected civilian government.

Often armed with little more than homemade weapons and knowledge of the terrain, some of these groups have surprised the military with their effectiveness, according to some analysts. The junta has responded with an offensive that rights groups say includes razing villages, mass extra-judicial killings and airstrikes on civilians.

In May, the United Nations (UN) humanitarian agency UNOCHA said more than 12,000 civilian properties were thought to have been burned or destroyed since the coup.

The military accuses PDF fighters – which it has declared “terrorists” – of setting the fires and says their assassination campaigns have killed hundreds including Buddhist monks, teachers and medical workers.

On Friday last week, junta forces in helicopters attacked Depeyin township in Sagaing.

The military says they were targetting fighters from a PDF and an ethnic rebel group in the area, accusing them of using civilians as human shields.

The UN children’s agency says at least 11 schoolchildren were killed in the incident, with 15 more still missing.

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