BANGKOK (AP) — A deadly shootout between security forces and militants opposed to army rule erupted Tuesday in Myanmar’s second biggest city when a raid was carried out on a building that the government described as a hideout of “terrorists.”
At least eight people were killed in the gun battle in Mandalay, the military-run Myawaddy Television's news service reported.
The word “terrorists” is generally used by the government and state media to refer to members of the armed resistance that has arisen against the February military takeover that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
A video that circulated widely on social media showed a soldier just outside the besieged property firing a rocket-propelled grenade at the building, a boarding house. The authenticity of the video could not immediately be confirmed, though residents of the densely populated area said the fighting, involving about 50 troops, appeared to be fierce and they could hear explosions.
Initial opposition to the army's seizure of power took the form of nonviolent resistance, including peaceful marches and demonstrations, but the military used deadly force that killed hundreds of protesters, sparking a turn to active self-defense.
Violent opposition to army rule has escalated in recent weeks, and has mostly taken the form of bombings and killings of military-linked local officials, though responsibility is rarely claimed for such attacks.
Armed opponents of the ruling junta have organized themselves into what they call People’s Defense Force units, with the ultimate goal of forming a federal army that can challenge the ruling junta. Some activists who have turned to armed resistance have been receiving military training from the militias of ethnic minority groups in border areas who have long battled the central government for greater autonomy, but the extent of their assistance is unclear.
Social media posts claiming to speak for a Mandalay People’s Defense Force branch said during the shootout Tuesday morning that it was the start of an urban guerrilla uprising. There were no signs, however, of any other significant actions.
“The day we have been waiting for has arrived. The Mandalay PDF has started today,” said a post signed by Bo Tun Tauk Naing, described as the group’s leader. The name is a pseudonym, combining the words for “bright like the sun” and “victory” after the abbreviation for the rank of major.
Other posts urged the city’s residents to block military reinforcements, obstruct roads with burning tires and reveal the military’s movements online.
The military said that when security forces went to inspect a building where “terrorists” were reported to be hiding, they were attacked with guns and grenades, compelling them to shoot back, according to Myawaddy TV.
The military said some members of the security forces were seriously injured -- no exact number was announced -- and four “terrorists” in the building died and eight others were arrested. It said some homemade explosive devices, grenades and light firearms were captured.
It also said a white sedan attempted to attack the security forces and then escape, but crashed into a transformer as it was being chased, killing four “terrorists” inside the car, in which weapons were also found.
The confrontation in Mandalay drew concern from at least two Western embassies.
“We are tracking reports of ongoing fighting in Mandalay, including early reports of possible civilian casualties. We are disturbed by the military escalation and urgently call for a cessation of violence,” the U.S. Embassy said on social media.
The French Embassy said, “The urban bloody confrontations in Mandalay heightened once again the death toll following the 1st February military coup.”