Empty villages and civilian armed groups rise in eastern Myanmar Conflict news


There is no one left in the village of Mi Meh.

After the military began launching indiscriminate airstrikes and bombings in its municipality of Demoso, in the southeastern state of Myanmar’s Kayah, also known as Karenni, everyone fled into the jungle.

With only his clothes on his back and a small tarp to cover the ground, Mi Meh and the others in his village settled into the camp. When Al Jazeera spoke to her on May 27, she ran out of food and water, her clothes were wet from the heavy rains and she hadn’t bathed in more than a week.

But the biggest concern for Mi Meh was his safety. “Planes often fly overhead,” he said. “We have a lot of women and children here … I’m very worried because [the military] it has no humanity. They can kill us at any time. “

Al Jazeera has used a pseudonym of Mi Meh, who, like several people interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because the military continues to arrest and kill those who criticize or oppose it.

Mi Meh municipality is located between several Kayah countries and the neighboring state of Shan, where locals have been forced to flee recently. According to UN estimates, between 85,000 and 100,000 people from the municipalities of Demoso, Loikaw and Hpruso in Kayah state and Pekon and Hsiseng in Shan state fled their homes ten days after May 21, when fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s army is known, and a civil resistance group called the Karenni People’s Defense Force (KPDF).

The KPDF is one of dozens of civil defense forces that have emerged since late March, while decades of conflict between ethnic armed organizations and Tatmadaw have also resumed. In the first two months after the February 1 military coup, millions took to the streets demanding a return to civilian rule, but Tatmadaw’s continued use of terror has killed 849 civilians and detained more. of 5,800 – has increasingly pushed armed resistance.

“From the forces of the Burmese regime [Tatmadaw] arbitrarily snatching and killing innocent civilians, there is no choice for people to defend themselves with the means they can get, “a local community leader in Kayah told Al Jazeera. [civilian defence forces] they do not have firepower like the forces of the Burmese regime … but they have the will and the determination to resist the evil ”.

Join forces

The committee representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), made up of lawmakers removed by the coup, approved the people’s right to self-defense on March 14th. On May 5, the CRPH-designated national unity government, which leads a shadow government in opposition to the military, announced the formation of a National Defense Force at the national level, a step towards a federal army that would unite the country’s various ethnic armed organizations and other resistance groups.

Kayah’s civilian fighters have not been subjected to this People’s Defense Force, but since June 2, they have joined local armed groups to form the Karenni Nationality Defense Force (KNDF).

Armed largely with homemade hunting rifles, Karenni fighters are the latest to emerge as a civil defense force against an army that, according to the Stockholm Peace Institute, bought $ 2.4 billion in weapons during the last ten years, mainly from China and Russia. Both before and after the coup, the Tatmadaw has not hesitated to use these weapons against civilians, especially in areas of armed resistance.

A member of the People’s Defense Force (PDF) manufactures a handmade pistol for use in fighting security forces near Demoso in Kayah state on June 4, 2021 [Stringer/AFP]

“The military has been violating human rights for many years, but now it is more often and more obvious … [violations] they happen every day, ”said Khu Te Bu, of the Karenni National Progressive Party, and Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of the National Unity Government.

On June 2, the KNPP issued an urgent call for Tatmadaw to cease attacks and threats against aid workers and civilians and open blocked roads so that food and supplies could enter the state. He also called on the United Nations, international governments and humanitarian organizations to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the displaced and hold the Tatmadaw accountable for its actions.

The patterns of Tatmadaw violence seen since the coup reflect decades of human rights abuses that the Karenni, along with other ethnic minorities in Myanmar, have suffered at the hands of the Tatmadaw, which has systematically gone in search of civilians. in areas where ethnic armed organizations have fought. self-determination and equal rights. In Kayah, tens of thousands were forced to enter relocation sites or flee into the forest or across the border into Thailand, mostly in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“Since May 21, we have experienced violations like the military committed in the past,” Baren Kun Aung of the Karenni Human Rights Organization told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera’s calls for a military spokesman to comment on human rights violations and attacks on civilians in Kayah since May 21 went unanswered.

Churches attacked

Recent fighting in Kayah erupted on May 21, when Tatmadaw troops opened fire on Demoso’s residential areas and arrested 13 people. The KPDF, sometimes backed by local armed groups, has since razed police stations, ambushed oncoming troops and taken part in gun battles.

This photograph of the local media group Kantarawaddy Times, taken and published on May 24, 2021, shows a damaged church in which four people were killed by army bombings. [Kantarawaddy Times via AFP]

The Tatmadaw has responded with continuous air and ground attacks on civilian areas.

“They’re shooting everyone who sees it,” Banya Kun Aung of the Karenni Human Rights Organization said. “Civilians have become hostages because of the political crisis.”

The KPDF claims to have killed more than 120 Tatmadaw members, according to the Al Jazeera count of local media. Meanwhile, Yangon-based website The Irrawaddy reported that at least eight civilian fighters and 23 civilians were killed in Kayah and neighboring Shan state municipalities between May 21 and 31.

Among the civilian victims were a young man shot in the head with his hands tied behind his back on May 24 in the municipality of Loikaw and a 14-year-old boy shot dead in the municipality of Loikaw on May 27, the most recent of 73 children murdered by security forces, according to the National Unity Government.

Churches have been repeatedly attacked in the predominantly Christian area. On May 24 there were four people dead and at least eight wounded when heavy artillery attacked a Catholic church in the municipality of Loikaw, where more than 300 villagers had sought refuge.

A local community leader told Al Jazeera that on May 29 Tatmadaw forces stormed a Catholic seminary in Loikaw where more than 1,300 refugee civilians were found, killed a volunteer cook and ate the food he had prepared. On the same day, according to the community leader, the Tatmadaw attacked and looted a Catholic parish house and convent in Demoso. On June 6, a Catholic church in Demoso called the Queen of Peace, which had raised a white flag of peace, was damaged by artillery fire. “If churches are no longer safe for people to take refuge and protect, where can we find safer places?” asked the community leader.

The Tatmadaw has justified its attacks on temples, churches and administrative buildings by claiming that the facilities protected “local rebels”.

According to the UN, humanitarian access has been hampered by insecurity, roadblocks, risks to landmines and long or unclear approval processes.

Local media have reported that the Tatmadaw has cut off access to Kayah state from Shan state, as well as road access to Loikaw, the capital of Kayah state.

Last week, military chief Min Aung Hlaing met with ASEAN diplomats and the Red Cross chief [Myanmar Ministry of Information via EPA]

“Rolling all day”

On June 3, the chairman of the International Committee of the Red Cross met with Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing to share concerns about the current humanitarian situation in Myanmar and “reinforce ongoing efforts to ensure a space for neutral and impartial humanitarian action. “

In Kayah, the Tatmadaw has continuously attacked and threatened humanitarian workers trying to help the displaced in recent clashes.

On May 26, security forces shot dead two youths delivering food from a church to displaced people from Demoso Township and arrested three volunteers who were returning from providing assistance. The next day, a young volunteer from Free Burma Rangers, a Christian humanitarian group, was shot dead in the town of Demoso while trying to help civilians.

A representative of the Karenni National Women’s Organization (KNWO), a Kayah-based civil society organization that is overseeing the crisis, told Al Jazeera that Kayah’s mountainous terrain also poses a challenge to the provision. of aid. “It simply came to our notice then [displacement sites] they are close to each other, but one place and another are far away; you may even have to cross mountains, ”he said.

As in other parts of the country experiencing mass displacement since the coup, he said food insecurity was on the rise. On May 27, military snipers shot dead two youths in the town of Demoso who were traveling back to their villages in search of rice. “[People] they are afraid to return home to bring basic necessities because they do not know where the soldiers could hide or point their weapons, ”he told Al Jazeera.

Thousands have fled into the jungle to escape the fighting [Stringer/AFP]

Those trapped in cities and towns, including the elderly and the disabled, also have trouble getting food, as curfews and continued violence leave them afraid to leave their homes. “We buy food fast … Other than that, we don’t dare go out … because [Tatmadaw] snipers can shoot us at any time, “said a Loikaw woman who spoke on condition of anonymity.” I hear the sound of shooting all day. “

The forces of the generals, he said, are also raiding homes for food and valuables, following patterns seen in other parts of the country. “They entered the houses and took everything, including rice, oil and salt … They took what they wanted and destroyed the houses,” the woman said.

As the rainy season approaches, aid groups warn that there would be a more severe food shortage if farmers in conflict areas are unable to plant their crops and health concerns are also growing.

Insufficient shelter and hygiene facilities leave populations vulnerable to malaria and diarrheal diseases, while access to medical and health services remains severely deficient. “There are few nurses among the displaced people, but they themselves are also displaced,” the KNWO representative told Al Jazeera. By grouping these issues together, local help groups are running out of funds. “We only have local donors who can donate small amounts … we don’t know how long we can hold out,” he said.

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