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Myanmar junta, rebels dispute deaths in village rocket attack

BANGKOK (AFP) – Myanmar’s junta accused anti-coup fighters of killing 15 civilians in a rocket attack, a claim disputed by the rebels who confirmed a raid but said the dead were members of a pro-military militia.

The Southeast Asian nation has been in crisis since a 2021 coup that sparked renewed fighting with ethnic rebel groups and led to the creation of dozens of newer “People’s Defence Forces” (PDF) now battling the junta. 

There are almost daily killings of low-level junta officials or alleged informers across Myanmar, with details murky and reprisals from the military often following quickly.

A building destroyed by what villagers said was an airstrike by the ruling military in Nyaung Kone village, Myanmar. PHOTO: AP

A junta statement said 15 civilians were killed in a rocket attack by “PDF terrorists” on a village in Ayadaw township in northern Sagaing region on Wednesday.

Another seven people, including three Buddhist monks, were wounded, said the statement released late Wednesday.

The wounded had been sent to a military hospital for treatment, it said, adding security forces were patrolling the area and seeking to arrest those responsible.

A member of the anti-junta Local Defence Force in Ayadaw told AFP the dead were not civilians but members of a pro-junta militia.

“They often shell our civilian area, therefore we attacked their base,” he said, asking not to use his name for fear of reprisals.

He said his group had raided Ngwedwin village on Wednesday morning and they had later seized some guns.

PDF fighters had killed 16 members of the militia, he said, without giving details.  

BBC Burmese reported “more than” 15 people had been killed by “gunshot” in the Ngwedwin village, citing a local anti-coup fighter who said they belonged to the pro-junta militia.  

AFP could not verify reports from the remote region, where the military periodically cuts internet access.

The junta has discussed forming “village people’s militia” as its troops struggle to overcome the armed uprising against its rule.

The groups have added to the volatile mix in Myanmar, where more than 20 ethnic rebel groups were already in various stages of conflict with the military before the coup.