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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Radio Free Asia

Junta Troops Arrest Dozens of PDF Militiamen in Myanmar's Sagaing Region

2021-07-29 -- Troops loyal to Myanmar's junta arrested nearly 60 members of the People's Defense Force (PDF) militia in Sagaing region's embattled Mingin township on Wednesday with the help of a paramilitary group, prompting thousands of villagers to flee their homes for safety, according to sources.

Members of the Mingin PDF told RFA's Myanmar Service that it was carrying out a mission to take over the pro-junta Taungbyu village at around 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning when around 70 of its fighters were ambushed and arrested by government troops and members of the Phyu Saw Htee—the militia wing of the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

"We had the village surrounded and they said women, children and unarmed people would come out to negotiate. They told us to leave behind our weapons and 57 of our comrades entered the village. They all got arrested. Only 12 of us escaped because we didn't believe them and wouldn't go along," a Mingin PDF fighter said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"I heard that four have already been killed. We are worried about the situation. We are worried that unarmed prisoners will be tortured and killed in violation of the Geneva Convention."

The fighter said that the PDF tried to take over Taungbyu and nearby Panset village after junta soldiers and the Phyu Saw Htee arrested and killed several villagers in a recent raid on Mingin township.

He said the identities of the four PDF fighters killed in Taungbyu village were not immediately clear.

Wednesday's arrest was the largest to date of PDF fighters anywhere in the country since the militia was formed in response to the military's Feb. 1 coup d'état.

Another member of the Mingin PDF told RFA his group is still trying to determine how the arrest took place.

"The phone line was disconnected as they were about to go in … How did it happen? Was it a betrayal? If they were armed, they would have been able to fight back," he said.

"They were a large force and knew the risk of getting killed while engaged in a fight. Being arrested en masse like this doesn't make sense. It is very difficult to understand. We are trying to find answers."

Photos purporting to show the arrest went viral on social media Thursday morning. It was not immediately clear who took the photos or posted them online.

Maung Myint, a former USDP lawmaker for Mingin township, wrote in a post to his Facebook page that the residents of Taungbyu "were united and showed good military tactics," allowing them to "crush" the PDF.

"Since their guns were Tumees, we surrounded them while they were preparing them [to be fired] and we got more than 50 alive," he wrote, referring to the flintlock style of traditional rifle their forefathers used to fight off British colonizers in the 1880s. "[The PDF prisoners] have been transferred to the army."

Attempts by RFA to reach junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment went unanswered Thursday.

Panset village clash

Fighting also broke out between the PDF members and the military Wednesday morning in Panset village, located around three miles from Taungbyu, according to the Mingin PDF, which claimed that it killed one government troop and injured three.

The clash and number of casualties was confirmed by Maung Myint, the former USDP lawmaker, who said the wounded troops were airlifted out of the area via the military's camp in Mingin township.

Residents of the area said that junta troops received support from both the navy and the air force during the fighting in Panset and Taungbyu villages.

Chaw Su San, vice-chairwoman of the Monywa University Students' Union, urged the PDF not to negotiate with the pro-military Pyhu Saw Htees in the first place.

"No matter how much they say they want to negotiate, our people should not believe them at all—nothing they say is trustworthy," she said.

"Since we have made the decision to fight [the regime] by whatever means possible and have clearly stated our goals, the PDF and the people should not accept any kind of offer."

Following Wednesday's clashes, the military set up camp in Taungbyu and Panset villages, prompting more than 8,000 people from 20 nearby villages to flee to safety.

According to the United Nations and aid groups, conflict in Myanmar's remote border regions has displaced an estimated 230,000 residents since the junta coup. They join more than 500,000 refugees from decades of conflict between the military and ethnic armies who were already counted as internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the end of 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Norwegian NGO.

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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