BANGKOK (AP) — A Baptist pastor and three other men were killed and a town of 2,000 homes all but abandoned this past weekend in fighting in Myanmar’s western Chin State that escalated after a call for a nationwide uprising against the country’s military government, a resident said Thursday.
The fighting on Saturday in Thantlang between government troops and the Chinland Defense Force, a local resistance group, followed more than a week of smaller skirmishes in which at least two government troops were reported killed.
Chin State has had some of the strongest insurgent activity against the military-installed government that seized power in February from the elected administration of Aung San Suu Kyi. Residents of the remote region have a long-standing reputation for their fierce fighting spirit.
The Chinland Defense Force said it killed two army soldiers in a Sept. 9 ambush, according to independent Myanmar media. Sporadic fighting was also reported in the area over the following days.
Major fighting broke out on Sept. 18, according to both the resistance and the government.
An artillery shell started a fire that destroyed 19 buildings including a newly built hotel, said a resident who insisted on not being identified because he feared punishment from the government.
He said fellow residents told him that Pastor Cung Biak Hum was shot to death by government troops as he tried to help put out the fire, and three other men were also said to have been fatally shot.
He said only about 30 people — 20 boys and several adults — remained at an orphanage at the edge of town after most residents fled to nearby villages for safety.
Myanmar media carried similar accounts from other sources.
Government spokesman Maj.-Gen. Zaw Min Tun blamed the fighting on Chin resistance forces and said the pastor’s death was under investigation.
The National Unity Government, a opposition organization that seeks to coordinate resistance to military rule, issued a call on Sept. 7 for a “people’s defensive war” to escalate the struggle.
The revolt against the government is being fought on two fronts, with acts such assassinations and bombings occurring in urban areas and more conventional battles in the countryside, though badly outgunned rural residents prefer ambush tactics to head-on combat.