Myanmar Junta’s Troops Use Civilians as Human Shields in Assault on Mindat

By The Irrawaddy 15 May 2021

Myanmar junta forces reportedly used local civilians in Mindat as human shields during a raid on the mountainous town in Chin State, northwestern Myanmar, on Saturday.

The raid came after several days of firefights between civilian resistance forces and the junta’s troops.

Civilian fighters resisted again Saturday, with shootouts lasting from about 6:30 a.m. to about 8:30 a.m. At that point, the civilian fighters retreated, said a member of the civilian force.

Following the early Saturday morning shootouts, junta forces raided houses and arrested any man they encountered in the town.

The civilian defense force member said the junta forces arrested at least 18 people and used them as shields when they entered the town.

“We could not fight back while our people were being arrested and used as human shields. We can’t hurt our people in town. Therefore we slowly retreated and most of the healthy men in town ran away,” he said. “But they fired with artillery and continued to attack us.”

At least three civilians were injured and some houses and religious buildings were damaged as junta forces fired about 20 artillery rounds from Battalion 274, which stationed in the town on Saturday morning, according to local residents.

In the meantime, junta forces used aircraft to bring in hundreds of reinforcements and weapons to the military’s Battalion 274 from Kyaukhtu, Magwe Region.

Three civilians were injured and one of the junta forces was wounded, according to residents.

A wounded Mindat resident on May 15. / CJ

The sounds of gunfire and artillery could still be heard on Saturday afternoon, even though the military had taken control of the town by then, said a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The resident said everyone is afraid and hiding behind their doors while junta troops are patrolling the downtown. Continuous gunfire can be heard from both the east and west sides of the town and from the mountains.

Local residents are worried about the arrests, tortures and other atrocities against the civilians, especially women, young children and the elders, because many of them were unable to flee from their homes when the troops raided Mindat.

The regime declared martial law for Mindat, which is home to some 20,000 people, on Thursday night after bombarding the town with artillery in response to the residents’ weeklong resistance. However, intensive shootouts continued on Friday and Saturday morning.

The junta’s assault on the town was followed by civilian resistance fighters seizing about six military vehicles that were approaching Mindat from Kyaukhtu on Friday.

Mindat’s Civilian Defense Force, the civilian resistance fighters who took up their traditional homemade percussion lock firearms to resist the junta’s troops, said in its statement on Friday that the military has used reinforced troops, heavy explosives, artillery, rocket propelled grenades and automatic machine guns in the shootouts.

Spent mortar shell found in Mindat town on May 15. / CJ

Armed resistance against the junta began in Sagaing Region’s towns in late March and was later joined by Chin State’s towns. Those towns resisting the junta troops are located in northwestern Myanmar.

Armed resistance by Mindat residents started on April 26 with an attack on the police station after junta forces broke promises to release seven young anti-regime protesters.

On April 26 and 27, the newly-formed Mindat Defense Force attacked military reinforcements approaching the town using homemade percussion lock firearms, leaving at least 20 junta troops dead.

Local resistance fighters and junta forces have been fighting for four days in Mindat since the late April ceasefire collapsed on May 12. At least ten junta troops and four local residents have died in the shootouts.

The Chin Human Rights Organization expressed concern about “possible war crimes against the people of Mindat as the junta troops prepared for an all-out assault” on the town on Saturday.

A statement by the civilian National Unity Government (NUG) issued on Saturday afternoon said the military has been sending more troops to Mindat, where the local residents are “exercising the right to self-defense” to protect town residents. The military helicopters are hovering above the town, while they fire into the town.

The NUG statement said that besides junta forces killing five civilians and injuring ten people recently, “Many more are potentially under the threat of fatalities and serious injuries” while the town is at risk of becoming a battleground and thousands of people are potentially facing the danger of being displaced.

The NUG urged the international community “to take immediate actions” to end all forms of violence by the military and protect the defenseless people of Mindat.