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Myanmar’s junta used helicopters to target anti-coup fighters in Sagaing: Report

Police march with a resident arrested during a crackdown on protesters holding rallies against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 26, 2021. (File photo by AFP)

Myanmar’s junta has launched an aerial raid on anti-coup fighters in a central village, local witnesses and a spokesman for the military junta say.

Media reports said on Monday that helicopters and fighter jets last week targeted the country's central region of Sagaing, which has seen fierce battles between Myanmar’s soldiers and militia forces in the past several months.

Local residents said the military used five helicopters in the attack and that troops had fired on the village of around 6,000 people from the air. Troops killed two leaders from the opposition-led People's Defense Force (PDF) and seven civilians.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun on Monday confirmed the military had used helicopters in the raid. He said he had no casualty figures.

Sagaing has seen regular clashes and increasingly bloody reprisals. Earlier this month, Myanmar’s troops killed and burned the bodies of 11 people who had been rounded up in a village of the same region.

In May the Kachin Independence Army, an ethnic rebel group in the country's far north, said it downed a military helicopter gunship during fierce clashes near the town of Momauk.

Anti-junta militias have sprung up across Myanmar to fight back after the February coup.

UN agency calls for ‘urgent access’ to Myanmar refugees

Separately, the UN's refugee agency on Monday called in a statement for Thailand to allow them "urgent access" to thousands of Myanmar refugees who fled to the kingdom to escape fighting in conflict-wracked Karen state.

"UNHCR is concerned for the welfare of these civilians and has approached the Thai authorities with offers of assistance," the statement read. "UNHCR and NGOs have requested urgent access to the refugees to ascertain and deliver to them the necessary humanitarian and protection assistance."

Clashes between Myanmar's military and the Karen National Union (KNU), a rebel group vocally opposed to a junta, broke out last week in a town not far from the Thai border. Some 700 refugees crossed the river into Thailand's Tak province on Thursday, fleeing artillery shelling and small arms fire.

By Monday, the number had increased to 3,900 due to continued fighting, the UNHCR said.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since its military overthrew former leader Aung San Suu Kyi's government in February, with widespread protests and the formation of the PDF militia in a bid to take on the well-equipped army.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a monitoring group cited by the United Nations, says more than 10,700 civilians have so far been detained and 1,300 killed by security forces since the military seized power. The military, however, claims that the AAPP is biased and uses exaggerated data and that hundreds of soldiers have also been killed.

The military previously faced international condemnation for killing, torturing, and displacing more than 700,000 of the country's minority Rohingya Muslims, in collusion with local Buddhist mobs and support from Aung San Suu Kyi.

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