Ten of Myanmar’s major rebel groups threw their support behind the country’s anti-insurgency riot on Saturday, fearing a broader conflict could erupt in a country long plagued by clashes between the military and ethnic armies.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military fired civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, sparking an uprising that the junta has sought to quell with fatal crashes.
According to a local monitoring group, more than 550 people have been killed in the riots against coups, bloodshed that has angered some of Myanmar’s about 20 ethnic groups and their militia, which controls large territories, mostly in border regions.
On Saturday, ten of these rebel groups met practically to discuss the situation and condemned the junta’s use of live ammunition against protesters.
“Military Council leaders must be held accountable,” said General Yawd Serk, leader of the Shan State Rebel Reconstruction Council.
Last week, the junta declared a month-long ceasefire with ethnic armed groups, although exceptions can be made if “government security and administrative machinery … is violated”.
The announcement did not include the cessation of lethal force against coups.
But Yawd Serk said the ceasefire required security forces to stop “all violent acts”, including against protesters.
The ten rebel groups that met online have signed a nationwide ceasefire agreement mediated by the Suu Kyi government, which sought to negotiate an end to the ethnic militias’ decades-long armed struggle for greater autonomy.
But distrust is deep for the ethnic minorities in Myanmar, and Yawd Serk said the ten signatories to the nationwide ceasefire would “review” the deal at their meeting.
“I would like to say that they (the ten groups) stand by the people who … demand the end of the dictatorship,” he said.
Last week, a UN special envoy warned the Myanmar Security Council against the risk of civil war and an impending “massacre”.
‘No cause for conflict’
The rebel group’s meeting comes a week after one of them, Karen National Union (KNU), seized a military base in the eastern state of Karen and killed 10 army officers. The junta retaliated with air strikes.
KNU has been a strong opponent of the military junta and said it protects hundreds of anti-coup activists.
On Saturday, the group condemned the military’s use of “excessive force by participating in non-stop bombings and airstrikes” from March 27 to 30, which has “caused the deaths of many people, including children.”
“The airstrikes have also led to the further displacement of more than 12,000 people,” it said.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said the military had only targeted the KNU’s Fifth Brigade – which led to the seizure of the military base.
“We had an airstrike just that day,” he told AFP.
“We have signed a nationwide gun license agreement … If they follow the NCA, there is no reason for conflict to happen.”
Ethnic local media and rights groups have reported several bombings and airstrikes on the state in recent days.
With the junta cutting cutting wifi services, mobile data and introducing a nightly internet shutdown that has been going on for almost 50 days, the flow of information in the country has become efficient.
Arrest warrants were also issued for 40 popular actors, models and social media influencers – most of whom are hiding – with authorities accusing them of spreading information that could cause mutiny among the armed forces.
Thousands across the country continued to come out to protest – with at least two cities being violently attacked by security forces before noon.
In the eastern state of Mon, a man was shot in the stomach and died on the way to the hospital, while a rescue worker in central Monywa told AFP that “two were shot in the head” when they met the authorities.
Films from the abuse in Monywa verified by AFP show protesters fighting to carry a young man bleeding from his head to safety when the shooting rings in the background.
Meanwhile, state media said late Saturday that a police officer was found dead with his neck cut in the streets of Mandalay – an act of “dishonest people”.
CNN, which was granted access by the junta, arrived this week – correspondent Clarissa Ward was taken around Yangon in a military convoy.
On Friday, she spoke to two sisters – Shine Ya Da Na Pyo and Nay Zar Chi Shine – who were later jailed with another relative.
Local media reported that they had flashed a three-finger salute – a symbol of opposition to the junta – while talking to Ward.
“We do not know where they were kept,” a relative told the sisters, who did not want to be named. “Our family is trying our best to get them released.”
A CNN spokesman said the company was aware of the situation.
“We are pressuring the authorities for information on this and for the safe release of detainees,” the spokesman said.