Three ethnic armed groups that support Myanmarâ€™s anti-junta protest movement killed 14 police officers and burned their station to the ground in a dawn raid on Saturday in northern Shan state, witnesses told RFA.
The slain policemen included the chief of the Naungmon police station south of Lashio, the largest city in northern Shan state, a region near the border with China where ethnic fighters have been in conflict with the Myanmar military for decades.
â€œFourteen policemen, including the patrol station chief, were killed, and seven others were injured,â€ said an aid worker who spoke to RFAâ€™s Burmese Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
â€œThe entire police station was burned down. The officersâ€™ families are sheltering in local monastery, and all dead bodies are now at Lashio military hospital,â€ said the relief worker, who helped retrieve the bodies of the dead patrolmen.
â€œThey were lying dead here and there in the compound, and we had to collect the bodies and prepare them for transport to Lashio,â€ he added.
The attack was launched at dawn by the Three Brotherhood Alliance of the Arakan Army (AA), the Taâ€™ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), a local resident said.
â€œWe heard gunfire between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.,â€ said a Naungmon villager, who did not want to be named for security reasons.
The morning raid sparked fierce fighting in Khar Shwe village outside Lashio as the military regime sent helicopters to attack the ethnic rebels, a local resident said.
â€œThe military used helicopters in the morning fight in supporting firepower against the rebel forces. From the hills we could see the fighting from far away,â€ said the witness.
â€œWe heard the rebel troops had pulled out of the area from Mawtaung village and military forces were chasing after them,â€ he said, describing the area of the police station attack as quiet by Saturday evening.
Piles of bodies in a pagoda
Troops and police had set up road blocks on highways into Lashio — a city of 130,000 people populated by Shan, the countryâ€™s second largest ethnic group, majority Burmans and Chinese — while security forces were checking all cars and motorcycles near Lashio City Hall Saturday afternoon.
A spokesman for the TNLA, Lt. Col. Mai Aik Kyaw, told RFA that â€œproblems with local telephone linesâ€ had left the group unable to confirm details of the attack and subsequent fighting.
Meanwhile in the central city of Bago, the death toll rose to 80 from a ferocious assault by on Friday by security forces with rifle grenades and machine guns as they cleared barricades built by anti-junta protesters, leaving piles of bodies in pagodas and on school grounds of the ancient city, protest leaders said.
“They did not provide medical treatment to the injured. The number of deaths due to bleeding has increased, and total fatalities have risen to more than 80Â today,â€ the protester said.
A Bago resident said bodies remained piled up at a monastery in the cityâ€™s Ponnazu ward.
â€œYesterdayÂ we were able to bury only one body that could be pulled out,” he said.
â€œThe rest have yet to be released. Yesterday, he said we asked the monks to help retrieve the bodies, but were refused,â€ he said.
â€œThere were an estimated 32 boys behind the first protest bunker. They are still missing,â€ the Bago resident added.
Other witnesses told RFA that the military had confiscated 57 bodiesÂ Friday. RFA could not independently verify this and the military junta spokesman could not be reached.
â€œTwo civilians were shot dead on the spot by the military troops in Tamu, in the Sagaing regionÂ Saturday, and shootings went on all day, driving Â frightened residents to flee across the nearby border to India, a man who fled to the frontier Â border told RFA.
â€œI am sure that a police officer and a civilian protester were killed,â€ said a resident of Tamu, where in the absence of internet connections people used Indian-made SIM cards for internet data until data services from cards were also cut off.
Ceasefire at risk?
There have been daily protests in Tamu since the early days of the military coup, and a least four civilians have been shot dead by troops. Local media reported last week that attacks by local residents in Tamu, a city of 44,000 people, had killed 14 soldiers in late March and early April.
In Tamu and Kalay, another SagaingÂ city, some protesters have been defending themselves against violent crackdowns from soldiers with traditional homemade guns, which invited more brutality from the junta.Â Â
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Thailand-based Myanmar NGO, says that as of Saturday, 701 people have been killed and a 3,012 people have been detained by the military regime.
According to an RFA tally, more than 650 protesters had been killed by violent crackdowns by troops and police sinceÂ Feb 1.
The Three Brotherhood Alliance said on March 30 that they might let a unilateral cease-fire with the Myanmar Army lapse if the junta that overthrew the countryâ€™s elected government did not stop killing and arresting civilian protesters.
â€œIf not, our Three Brotherhood Alliance will have to support and cooperate with our own oppressed brethren and multiethnic people who are waging the Myanmar Spring Revolution in self-defense against the Myanmar Army,â€ they said last month.
Mau Aik Kyaw told RFA on Friday that with no let-up in attacks on civilians that have now killed about 650 people in nearly 10 weeks of protests, â€œtop leaders of the three groups are now discussingâ€ how to respond.
Civilians in Rakhine state near the border with Bangladesh in western Myanmar, where a cease-fire in a two-year war between the alliance member the AA and Myanmar military has been in place since November, say they fear that fighting could resume without a truce extension.
â€œIf the military tension worsens, the people will suffer again,â€ said Bakka, a social worker in Rathedaung in Rakhine state, where the war since late 2018 killed more than 300 civilians and displaced more than 200,000.
Reported by RFAâ€™s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.