Two Myanmar air force bases in the cities of Meiktila and Magway were hit by rocket attacks Thursday, and several other cities were rocked by explosions, witnesses said, with unconfirmed social media reports saying as many as six government soldiers were killed.
While the 12-week-old military junta that overthrew Myanmar’s elected government threatened to fire striking teachers and arrested more regime opponents, witnesses told of rocket attacks on key military installations in the center of the country, far from regions controlled by ethnic armies.
Six improvised rockets were fired at the air force base in Meiktila, a city in Mandalay region that is home to the Myanmar Air Force Central Command, though only five exploded, and the other one was found later by soldiers, witnesses said.
“There were attacks on air bases — one in Meiktila and another in Magway at around 4 a.m.,” a Magway resident said. “They were not bomb explosions but improvised rocket attacks.”
About 20 armed soldiers were later seen in the town stopping cars and motorbikes and searching for weapons, the person said.
“We heard that three rockets hit Meiktila and five hit the Magway air base, and that at least two soldiers were said to have been killed in Meiktila,” the Magway resident added.
Facebook posts said six troops had been killed in both attacks, but RFA was not able to confirm the deaths.
RFA could not reach the military junta’s spokesman for comment on the attacks.
Several rockets flew over Meiktila air base and fell in a nearby village, though there were no casualties because they exploded in an uninhabited area, villagers said.
It is unclear who was behind the blasts in Meiktila, which hosts one of the largest air bases in the country.
The air force base in Magway, about 90 miles west of Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, also was attacked in the morning, a resident said.
A butcher who was riding a motorcycle to the market early Thursday was hit by a bullet, a Magway resident said.
Armory fire in Bago region
A fire broke out at the armory of the 35th Infantry Division based in Thayarwaddy, Bago region, following explosions Thursday morning, displacing some of the 100 people from military families who live there, local residents said.
“At first, we thought it was thunder when we heard successive loud bangs, but after that we found out that there was a fire at the 35th Infantry Division,” said one resident. “The noises died down after about half an hour.”
The military ordered the immediate evacuation of families living in the area, he said.
RFA reporters have been unable to confirm reports that the fire was caused by a power outage and extremely high daytime temperatures.
The incident was the first time in 40 years that an armory had exploded, local residents said.
In Yangon’s Hlaingthaya and South Dagon townships, sites of large anti-military protests and fierce crackdowns earlier this spring, improvised bombs exploded at local administration offices.
In Mandalay, a bomb exploded in front of the deputy mayor’s residence and outside the local headquarters of the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) headquarters, residents said, though no casualties were reported.
The junta that overthrew leader Aug San Suu Kyi’s elected government in a coup on Feb. 1 took aim Thursday at striking teachers who have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), threatening to fire them unless they returned to work for the start of the next school year in June.
More than 300,000 state education workers nationwide have joined the CDM — a mass walkout of medical professionals, bankers and public sector employees — with about two-thirds of them quitting the movement because of pressure from the junta, said a member of the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation.
“There are over 400,000 employees in the entire country, and over 300,000 had taken part in the CDM earlier,” the person said.
“But now, with all kinds of pressure from the military, only about 100,000 are left in the movement,” he said. “In the past several days, [junta officials] have been approaching the striking school teachers to return to work.”
Education Department officials say that schoolteachers still taking part in the CDM will not receive their April salaries, and they have asked them to repay their March salaries as well as any loans.
Educators involved in the CDM have been forced to sign a nonparticipation agreement under threat of being charged with incitement under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, said a teacher in Bago.
“Most of the teachers are not worried about other things except for the 505(a) threat,” he said. “Recently, the family members of those taking part in the civil disobedience movement have been harassed or arrested, and this had worried a lot of people.”
Another teacher from Bago said that more than 30 of her colleagues from a state high school who are involved in the CDM had been threatened online and that they were in hiding.
One educator said she was forced to flee her home because the military was searching teachers’ houses.
“We have been hiding at houses of friends or close students for some time now,” she said. “We were on the run because it would have been terrible to fall into their hands.”
The junta claims that some workers were pressured into joining that CDM, and that no one should write incriminating posts on their Facebook pages about the military regime or their support for opponents of the junta.
Support for CDM drying up
Spearheading formal opposition to the junta is the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a group of lawmakers ousted in the coup, who formed a parallel National Unity Government (NUG) on Apr. 16.
The CRPH has said it is trying to support CDM members by collecting financial contributions from foreign donors.
But an NLD lawmaker who did not want to be identified said that the junta’s ongoing arrests of CRPH members and legislators helping those who have joined the CDM have nearly ended the aid programs.
A member of the CDM’s campaign support committee also said that the number of donors has dwindled since March, making it difficult to provide assistance.
Zaw Wai Soe, the NUG’s minister of health and education, said in a recent speech that there was no need for striking workers in the CDM to worry about the junta repressing them.
“The morale of the workers has been of paramount importance in the CDM and that pressure from the military council should not bother them,” he said.
“Everyone knows how many sacrifices our schoolteachers have made in joining the CDM,” he said. “All our Myanmar brethren overseas as well as the international community are very much interested in the movement and have helped in many ways, so we don’t have to care much about the military council.”
Win Myat Aye, NUG minister for humanitarian affairs and disaster management, wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday that his government was drawing up a budget that would include regular monthly salaries for striking workers participating in the movement.
But some educators already have felt the bite of the junta.
Education Department workers in Naypyidaw who lived in government-provided housing said they were forced out of their homes because they participated in the CDM and that they have had difficulty making ends meet.
The military junta said in a statement on Tuesday that it would consider appeals from civil servants who had been involved in the CDM movement if the appeals were submitted within six months.
Arrests of officials in Mogok
Junta forces on Wednesday night arrested Ko Ko Oo, local chairman of the former ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), in the town of Mogok, and Lwin Maung Maung, a lawmaker for the Meiktila constituency, said friends and relatives of the men.
Ko Ko Oo was taken from his home in Meiktila by about two dozen soldiers, said Soe Htay, said a friend of the local NLD official.
“They are making unlawful arrests,” he said.
A family member of Lwin Maung Maung said security forces who arrested Lwin Maung Maung came to the area to search for people who had joined the CDM.
“If they could not find the people they wanted, then they arrested their family members,” he said. “And if they found knives, daggers and other such articles in the house, they would beat up the homeowners,”
On Thursday, the junta leveled additional charges, including high treason and unlawful association, against Wai Moe Naing, a detained anti-coup leader who led demonstrations in the town of Monywa, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
There now are 10 cases filed against him since his arrest in mid-April while leading a motorbike rally, the journal said.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Thailand-based rights group, said that as of Thursday, 759 people had been killed since the Feb. 1 coup, while 3,461 were detained. The junta outlawed the AAPP on Monday, accusing it of exaggerating casualties — a charge the group denied.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.