Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence

BANGKOK, Thailand: Midday bombings near a busy government office injured at least nine people in Myanmar’s second biggest city on Wednesday, in what appeared to be the latest high-profile attack by militants opposed to the country’s military rulers.

Other attacks by foes of the government were also reported on social media and news websites sympathetic to the opposition. Shootings and bombings in Myanmar’s cities and armed clashes in the countryside are daily occurrences, and UN officials and other observers have warned that unrest triggered by the military’s seizure of power in February is spinning toward civil war.

Two explosions rocked an area near the Road Transport Administration Department in Mandalay, damaging at least 14 motorbikes, witnesses said by phone. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of being targeted by security forces for speaking to the media.

A member of the Htarni Shae Rescue team said four people were hurt in the initial blast  five more from his and another rescue team when the second explosion took place after they arrived with ambulances. Such rescue teams are usually charity organizations and are common in many parts of Southeast Asia.

Video of the busy location posted online showed two columns of flames and smoke rising into the air as people ran in panic along the adjacent road.

A group calling itself the Special Attacking Force (Upper Burma) said on its Facebook page that it had carried out the bombing. It said it wanted to deprive the military government of revenue to buy bullets. The targeted office collects driving fees and taxes.

The group warned people to stay away from agencies that collect money for the government.

Similar opposition groups are active all over Myanmar, many calling themselves people’s defense forces.

Opposition to military rule has hardened in the months since the army seized power, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The takeover was first met by nonviolent demonstrations which were suppressed with deadly force by the army and police. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates that security forces have killed about 1,200 civilians, a figure the government says is too high.

Protesters then began using more active self-defense as violence escalated on both sides. The government is now facing an insurgency in the cities, where militants’ actions typically include bombings and targeted killings, and in the countryside, where soldiers battle village militias and the established guerrilla forces of ethnic minorities that have sought greater autonomy for decades.

Wednesday’s attack in Mandalay was in support of a civil disobedience movement that seeks to deprive the state of workers and revenue. Civil servants have been encouraged to stay away from work and customers have been urged not to pay their electricity bills.

The Special Attacking Force said it had issued many warnings to the Road Transport Administration Department and other government offices that support the functioning of the government, called the State Administration Council.