Myanmar security forces have reportedly killed 20 people in clashes with villagers armed with catapults and crossbows in the Ayeyarwady River Delta region. If confirmed, the death toll would be one of the worst days of violence in the country in nearly two months.
Khit Thit Media and the Delta news agency reported that 20 civilians had been killed and more wounded on Saturday, after villagers tried to fight back when soldiers attacked residents in what they said was a search for weapons.
A local watchdog group estimates that some 845 people have been killed by security forces since the army toppled the country’s democratically elected government on February 1.
Clashes broke out before dawn on Saturday in the village of Hlayswe, 150 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of the main city of Yangon, when soldiers said they had come for weapons, said at least four local media outlets and a resident.
“The townspeople only have crossbows and there are many casualties on the part of the people,” said the neighbor, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.
State television news said that three “terrorists” had been killed and two arrested in Hlayswe as security forces were to arrest a man accused of conspiring against the state.
State television MRTV said security forces had been attacked with air pistols and darts. After the shooting, the bodies of three attackers were found, he said.
A spokesman for the board did not respond to Reuters calls for comment on the violence in the village. Reuters could not independently confirm the death toll.
It was one of the worst acts of violence since the coup in the Ayeyarwady region, a major rice-growing area that has large populations of both the majority Bamar ethnic group, from which much of the military hails, and the Karen minority.
The military has struggled to quell the anger of citizens since it toppled elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi after a decade of democratic reforms opened up the previously isolated state.
Since the coup, conflicts have erupted in border areas where some two dozen ethnic armies have been fighting insurgencies for decades. The junta has also faced daily protests and crippling strikes.
The Shwegu People’s Defense Force, which opposes the junta, said it had attacked a police station in northern Shwegu late on Friday together with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
Reuters was unable to reach the KIA for comment.
In eastern Myanmar, the MBPDF (Mobye People’s Defense Force) said it had clashed with the army on Friday and that four “terrorist soldiers” had been killed.
Despite the oil from the tower, the Myanmar military has shown little sign of heeding its opponents’ calls for it to relinquish control. This week, the board received its first high-profile foreign visitors: the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross and two envoys from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
The meeting between the board’s leader, Min Aung Hlaing, and Asean envoys sparked outrage in parts of Myanmar on Saturday, with an Asean flag caught on fire in the second city of Mandalay.
A clandestine opposition government set up by opponents of the junta said after the envoys’ visit on Friday that it had lost faith in ASEAN’s attempts to end the crisis, the main international effort to resolve it.
Thailand expressed concern on Sunday that Myanmar was not heeding the five-point “consensus” the board agreed with ASEAN in April, calling for an end to violence, political talks and the appointment of a regional special envoy.
“We have been closely following developments in Myanmar with great concern, especially incidents of violence in many parts of the country,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tanee Sangrat said in a statement.