Villages in eastern Myanmar are empty, civilian armed groups rise | Conflict News

There is no one in Mimei’s village.

After the military began to launch indiscriminate air raids and shelling of her Demoso town in Kayah State (also known as Karenni) in southeastern Myanmar, everyone fled to the jungle.

Mi Mei and the others in the village covered the ground with only clothes and a small tarpaulin. When Al Jazeera spoke with her on May 27, her food and water were almost running out, her clothes were soaked in heavy rain, and she hadn’t taken a shower for more than a week.

But Mime’s biggest concern is her safety. “Jet planes often fly overhead,” she said. “We have a lot of women and children here… I’m really worried because [the military] There is no humanity. They can kill us at any time. “

Al Jazeera used Mi Meh’s pseudonym. Like several people interviewed in this article, he declined to be named because the military continues to arrest and kill those who criticize or oppose it.

Mimei Town is one of several towns in Kayah and neighboring Shan State, and locals have recently been forced to flee. According to United Nations estimates, 85,000 to 100,000 people from the towns of Demoso, Loikaw and Hpruso in Kayah State and Pekon and Hsiseng in Shan State fled their homes within 10 days after May 21 when fighting broke out between the Burmese army. The Burmese army is working with a civilian resistance organization called the Karenni People’s Defence Force (KPDF).

KPDF is one of dozens of civil defense forces that have emerged since late March, and the decades-long conflict between ethnic armed groups and the Burmese army has also rekindled. In the first two months after the military coup on February 1, millions of people took to the streets and demanded the restoration of civilian rule, but the Burmese army continued to use terrorist tactics — so far, 849 civilians have been killed and more than 5,800 arrested. -Pushing more and more people into armed resistance.

“Because the army of the Burmese regime [Tatmadaw] Arbitrarily looting and killing innocent civilians, the people have no choice but to protect themselves by any means available to them,” Kayah local community leader told Al Jazeera. “They have no choice. [civilian defence forces] They don’t have the firepower of the Burmese regime… but they have the will and determination to fight evil. “

Joined forces

The Committee of Representatives of the People’s Chamber (CRPH), composed of legislators dismissed by the coup, approved the people’s right to self-defense on March 14. On May 5th, the National Unity Government appointed by CRPH is running an opposition shadow government and announced to the military the formation of a National People’s Defense Force, A step towards the federal army, which will unite different ethnic armed groups and other resistance groups in the country.

The civilian fighters in Kayah are not included in the People’s Defense Forces, but since June 2 they have joined the local armed groups to form the Karenni National Defense Forces (KNDF).

According to data from the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, Karenni fighters are mainly equipped with homemade shotguns. They are the latest civil defense force against the army. According to data from the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, the army has purchased US$2.4 billion in weapons in the past 10 years. Most of them come from China and Russia. Before and after the coup, the Burmese army did not hesitate to use these weapons against civilians, especially in areas of armed resistance.

On June 4, 2021, a member of the People’s Defence Forces (PDF) made a hand-made gun for use in fighting the security forces near De Moso, Kayah State [Stringer/AFP]

“The military has been violating human rights for many years, but now it is becoming more frequent and more obvious… [violations] It’s happening every day,” said Khu Te Bu, Deputy Minister of the Interior of the Karenni National Progressive Party and the National Unity Government.

On June 2, the KNPP issued an urgent appeal, demanding that the Myanmar Army cease attacks and threats against aid workers and civilians and open blocked roads so that food and supplies can enter the state. It also called on the United Nations, international governments and humanitarian organizations to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the displaced, and demanded that the Burmese army be held accountable for their actions.

The pattern of violence seen by the Burmese army since the coup reflects the human rights violations suffered by the Karenni and other ethnic minorities at the hands of the Burmese army for decades. The Burmese army systematically hunts down civilians in areas where ethnic armed groups are fighting. The right to self-determination and equality. In Kayah, tens of thousands of people were forced into relocation sites or fleeing into the forest or crossing the border to Thailand, mainly in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“Since May 21, we have been re-experiencing the violations committed by the military in the past,” Banya Kun Aung of Karenni Human Rights Group told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera called on military spokespersons to comment on Kayah’s human rights violations and attacks on civilians since May 21, but no one responded.

The church was attacked

The most recent fighting in Kayah broke out on May 21, when Burmese army troops opened fire on residential areas in De Moso and arrested 13 people. KPDF sometimes received support from local armed groups, and thereafter razed the police station, ambushed the approaching troops, and conducted gun battles.

This handout photo taken and released by local media group Kantarawaddy Times on May 24, 2021 shows a damaged church in which four people were killed in army shelling [Kantarawaddy Times via AFP]

The armed forces carried out continuous air and ground attacks on civilian areas.

“They are shooting at everyone they see,” said Banya Kun Aung of Karenni Human Rights. “Due to the political crisis, civilians have become hostages.”

According to Al Jazeera’s statistics on local media reports, KPDF claimed to have killed more than 120 members of the armed forces. At the same time, the Irrawaddy news website in Yangon reported that between May 21 and 31, at least 8 civilian fighters and 23 civilians were killed in nearby towns in Kayah and Shan State.

Among the civilian casualties, including a young man whose hands were tied behind his head in Loikaw town on May 24, and a 14-year-old boy who was shot dead in Loikaw town on May 27, this is the latest of more than 73 children According to the National Unity Government, he was killed by security forces.

In areas predominantly Christians, churches have been repeatedly attacked. On May 24, four people Be killed At least 8 people were injured when heavy artillery hit a Catholic church in Loikaw Town, where more than 300 villagers sought refuge.

A local community leader told Al Jazeera that on May 29, the armed forces raided a Catholic seminary in Loikaw where more than 1,300 civilians took refuge, killed a volunteer cook and ate the food he prepared. On the same day, according to community leaders, armed forces raided and ransacked a Catholic parish house and monastery in Demoso. On June 6, a Catholic church in Demoso called “Queen of Peace” was destroyed by artillery fire. The church once raised a white flag of peace. “If the church’s shelter and protection for people is no longer safe, where can we find a safer place?” the community leader asked.

The Burmese army claimed that these facilities provided shelter for “local rebels” as a defense against attacks on temples, churches and administrative buildings.

According to the United Nations, humanitarian access is hampered by insecurity, roadblocks, landmine risks, and lengthy or unclear approval procedures.

Local media reported that the Burmese army cut off the passage from Shan State to Kayah State and the road to Loikaw, the capital of Kayah State.

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

‘Shoot all day long’

On June 3, the President of the ICRC met with Chief of Staff Min Aung Lai and shared his concerns about the current humanitarian situation in Myanmar.Strengthen ongoing efforts To ensure a neutral and just space for humanitarian action. “

In Kayah, armed forces continue to attack and threaten humanitarian workers who are trying to help people displaced by the recent conflict.

On May 26, the security forces shot and killed two young people who had transported food from the church to the displaced people in Demoso town, and arrested three volunteers who had returned from there to provide assistance. The next day, a young volunteer of the Christian humanitarian organization Free Myanmar Rangers was shot dead in the town of Demoso while trying to help civilians.

A representative of the Kayah civil society organization Kayah National Women’s Organization (KNWO) told Al Jazeera that the mountainous areas of Kayah also pose a challenge to provide assistance. “From above, it might look like [displacement sites] Close at hand, but far away; you may even need to climb the mountains,” she said.

Like other parts of the country that have experienced massive displacement since the coup, she said food insecurity is increasing. On May 27, military snipers shot and killed two young men who were returning to the village to collect rice in the town of Demoso. “[People] Afraid to go back to their house to get the necessities because they don’t know where the soldiers might be hiding or aiming with guns,” she told Al Jazeera.

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

People trapped in cities and towns, including the elderly and the disabled, also face difficulties in obtaining food because curfews and continued violence prevent them from leaving their homes. “We buy groceries quickly…other than that, we dare not go out…because [Tatmadaw] Snipers can shoot at us at any time,” said a Ms. Loikaw, who asked not to be named. “I can hear gunshots all day long. “

She said that the generals’ troops are also attacking houses to obtain food and valuables following the pattern of other parts of the country. “They went into the house and took everything, including rice, oil and salt… They took what they wanted and destroyed the house,” the woman said.

As the rainy season approaches, aid organizations warn that if farmers in conflict areas cannot grow crops, there may be more serious food shortages, and health concerns are increasing.

Insufficient housing and sanitation facilities make people vulnerable to malaria and diarrhoeal diseases, while access to medicines and health services is still severely inadequate. “There are only a few nurses among the displaced, but they are also displaced themselves,” a representative of KNWO told Al Jazeera. To further complicate these issues, the funds of local aid groups are running out. “We only have local donors who can provide a small amount of money… We don’t know how long we can last,” she said.

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About the Author: Agnes Zang