(Reuters) – At least three people were killed in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady river delta region on Saturday as the military junta’s forces clashed with villagers, local media and residents said, while fighting was also reported in northern and eastern Myanmar.
The army has struggled to impose control since the army returned to power on Feb. 1, overthrowing elected leader Aug San Suu Kyi after a decade of democratic reforms had opened up the once isolated Southeast Asian state.
Anti-junta protests take place daily in many parts of a country that has been paralysed by strikes, while conflicts with ethnic army groups that oppose the junta have flared in Myanmar’s borderlands.
On Saturday, clashes spread to the Ayeyarwady region, an important rice growing area that has large populations of both the Bamar majority ethnic group, from which much of the army draws much of its strength, and the Karen minority.
Clashes broke out before dawn at Kyonpyaw, some 150 km (100 miles) northwest of Yangon, when soldiers came to arrest a man suspected of harbouring weapons and were met by a bomb blast, a resident told Reuters.
“The people in the village only have crossbows and there are a lot of casualties on the people’s side,” said the resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. Khit Thit Media and BBC Burmese language news said three people had been killed.
Reuters was unable to reach a junta spokesman for comment on that or reports of fighting elsewhere in Myanmar.
The anti-junta Shwegu People’s Defence Force said it had attacked a police station in northern Shwegu late on Friday together with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of around two dozen ethnic armies and which has been fighting for decades.
Reuters was unable to reach the KIA for comment.
In eastern Myanmar, the MBPDF (Mobye People’s Defence Force) said it had clashed with the army on Friday afternoon. It said four “terrorist soldiers” had been killed.
Despite the turmoil, Myanmar’s army has shown little sign of heeding calls from its opponents to restore democracy. This week the junta received its first high-profile foreign visitors – the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross and envoys from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing met on Friday with ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi and Erywan Yusof, the second minister for foreign affairs for ASEAN chair Brunei, army-run Myawaddy TV reported.
At least 845 people have been killed by security forces and more than 4,500 jailed, according to an activist group. The junta disputes those figures.
The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, a group of independent international experts, said it was crucial that the ASEAN envoys also meet protest leaders, members of a parallel opposition government, elected lawmakers and Suu Kyi’s party.
“Failure to meet with all relevant parties risks lending legitimacy to the junta and undermines the enormous effort and sacrifice made by the people of Myanmar to resist the junta’s violent and unlawful attempt to seize power,” it said.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and William Mallard)