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Myanmar’s ruling junta parades new defense force recruits

Published: Updated:

The underground government set up by opponents of Myanmar’s military junta said its first batch of recruits have finished training for a new defense force, releasing video of them parading in uniform.

The National Unity Government had announced it would form a People’s Defense Force to challenge the army, which seized power on Feb. 1, ousting elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and plunging the Southeast Asian country into chaos.

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The video of the graduation ceremony was released on Friday in the name of Yee Mon, the shadow government’s defense minister.

“This military is established by the official civilian government,” an unidentified officer says at the ceremony. “The People’s Defense Force must be aligned with the people and protect the people. We will fight to win this battle.”

A junta spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment.

The military authorities say the National Unity Government is treasonous and that both it and the People’s Defense Force have been designated as terrorist groups.

The video shows around 100 fighters marching on a muddy parade ground in the jungle. They march in new camouflage uniforms behind the flags of the new force, red with a white star. They are not shown carrying weapons.

Nearly four months after the coup, the army is still struggling to impose order.

Anti-military protests take place daily in many parts of the country, strikes by opponents of the junta have paralyzed business and fighting has flared with ethnic armed groups that oppose the junta and new militias formed to oppose it.

Two homemade bombs exploded in the main city of Yangon on Saturday, apparently targeting a police post and an army truck, the Mizzima news service said. It said one person speaking to the soldiers had been wounded in the second incident.

The junta’s forces have killed over 800 people since the coup, according to figures cited by the United Nations. More than 4,000 people have been detained.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing says the civilian death toll is nearer 300 and has said around 50 members of the police have been killed. He gave no figure for soldiers. Groups fighting the armed forces say they have inflicted scores of casualties.

The army justified its coup on the grounds of fraud in an election swept by Suu Kyi’s party in November. The allegations were rejected by the previous electoral commission. Suu Kyi, 75, is on trial on a series of charges that her lawyers say are politically motivated.

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