New Clashes Between Myanmar's Military and Ethnic Armies Exacerbates Refugee Crisis
2021-05-20 -- At least 10 military junta troops were killed and around 20 critically wounded in five clashes over the last two days in Myanmar's Chin state, militia groups said Thursday, while tens of thousands of civilians have fled and are living in dire conditions as fighting has intensified in the region.
Four of the engagements took place in Chin's Hakha township, killing and injuring regime soldiers, a Hakha-based Chin-land Defense Force (CDF) spokesman told RFA's Myanmar Service.
The first occurred when CDF forces entered Lot Klone village on May 18 and were fired on by the junta troops, while the second took place the following morning, when a CDF unit ambushed soldiers on Matupi Road, killing seven, he said.
"This morning [Thursday] we heard from sources close to the area that more than 10 troops were killed and more than 20 injured," the spokesman said.
Additionally, the CDF reported, a clash took place at a security checkpoint near Hakha University on May 18 and another near the intersection of Hakha Thar 6 and Hakha-Gangaw Roads the same day. On the evening of May 19, the military set fire to more than 30 motorbikes owned by Hakha CDF members, the group said, although no casualties were suffered.
In Chin's nearby Mindat township, the Mindat People's Administration (MPA) militia said it engaged with regime troops on May 19 between mile markers 40 and 50 on Mindat-Matupi Road, killing three junta soldiers, including a sergeant.
As of Thursday, the military had yet to confirm details of any of the clashes in Chin state, where soldiers are battling volunteer militias wielding mostly home-made weapons more than three months after it overthrew the country's elected government in a Feb. 1 coup and reinstated junta rule.
Za Op Ling, deputy executive director of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), told RFA that more than 35,000 civilians from Chin state have fled their homes since the attack on Lot Klone villageâ€”15,000 of whom have crossed Myanmar's border into India's Mizoram state.
"Whenever there is a clash, the soldiers later search every house and make arrests," he said.
"Their main target is young people, so all the youths have fled to nearby villages. Some escaped to the Indian border. All this happened mostly in Mindat and at least 8,000 people have fled from the township alone."
Za Op Ling said that local authorities in Mizoram state have asked India's central government to provide assistance to the refugees from Myanmar.
A resident of Mindat confirmed that the township is nearly deserted after the military "opened fire with heavy artillery," killing several residents.
"In this kind of situation, it isn't possible for people to live in the town. It's not safe to stay at home at all," she said.
"People just fled to nearby forests or villages. The young people from our village have helped some of the refugees. Now there are only some elderly people left in the town, most of whom are trapped."
Around 3,000 people taking shelter in four villages in Mindat township are currently facing food shortages due to logistical difficulties and with water and power cut off, according to a local aid worker.
A member of the Mindat CDF, which is helping the refugees, said the group plans to ask the United Nations refugee agency for help in distributing food and other necessities.
A spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General said in a statement on Tuesday that that the UN Office for Human Rights is investigating reports of arbitrary detentions, including the killing of six people in Mindat over the weekend.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said at least 797 civilians, including dozens of children, have been killed by security forces since the latest military coup, while more than a thousand civilians have been injured.
The fighting in Mindat over the weekend prompted Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) on Thursday to condemn the military's blocking of humanitarian and medical aid and access to clean water.
"The reports out of Mindat â€¦ expose the horrifying reality of ongoing violence against tens of thousands of civilians in Mindat by the Myanmar military," the group said.
"These actions further echo the unconscionable actions and severe breaches of international human rights law perpetrated by the Tatmadaw since the group seized power in a February 1 coup d'etat," it said, using the Burmese name for the military.
"Physicians for Human Rights is appalled by the Myanmar military's unlawful implementation of martial law in Mindat, who has pushed civilians into Mindat's surrounding jungles to escape detention, and the reported obstruction in access to clean drinking water."
The group noted that the fighting has left women and children in Mindat vulnerable to tactics of war it said the military regularly employs, including sexual and gender-based violence.
Kachin state refugees
In Kachin state, where junta troops have also been fighting the veteran ethnic Kachin Independence Army (KIA) since clashes broke out between the two sides on April 10, residents told RFA that the military has launched more than 30 airstrikes in the area over the past 40 days.
The two sides have engaged in some 90 engagements in Kachin state's Momauk township alone, prompting more than 10,000 people to flee from 20 villages. More than 3,000 have arrived in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), while the remainder are in hiding in forests near their homes, hoping to remain able to harvest their crops.
A woman refugee from Momauk's Sihak village told RFA her family had lost nearly everything in the fighting.
"The three or four houses in front of ours were razed to the ground during the clashes," she said. "The owners have nowhere to live and have fled."
A resident of Momauk's Kone Law village said that clashes intensified just as farmers were preparing to harvest peanuts, and many crops were damaged.
"We should have been harvesting then, but now, the harvest time has passed, and the ground has become very hard," he said.
"It's very difficult to pull out the plants. We had to hire more people, but we still can't get it done because the soil has hardened. There are a lot of people who dare not go to the fields because the soldiers are too close."
Civil society groups are attempting to provide food, shelter and medicine to Momauk, but refugees told RFA that the military is blocking them from doing so and confiscating the goods.
Residents also complained that soldiers regularly plant landmines in area fields that kill essential cattle, but then demand compensation from farmers for "destroying their weapons."
A civil society worker who is assisting refugees in Momauk told RFA there are still not enough camps for those who have fled the fighting.
"Even monasteries that used to take in refugees are full, so many people lack shelter because there is no place for them to live," he said.
"We are now trying to find ways to set up a new camp in a convenient location with the help of U.N. agencies, but it is difficult because of the rising number of refugees."
While the most intense fighting between the military and KIA has taken place in Momauk, clashes have also occurred in several other townships in Kachin state, including Laiza, Hpakant, Mohnyin, Mogaung, Tanaing, Bhamo, Putao, Mansi and Myitkyina.
In addition to clashes with the military regime, Myanmar's myriad ethnic armies have continued to fight amongst themselves in the pursuit of new territory, further exacerbating the country's refugee crisis.
Clashes between the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the combined forces of the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) and Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) broke out near Manli village in northern Shan state's Namtu township in April.
More than 2,000 residents of Namtu's Panlong, Chaungsa and Manli villages, have since fled to the nearby town centers of Hsipaw and Namtu. Additionally, clashes between the SSPP/SSA-N and RCSS on May 19 prompted another 1,000 villagers to flee Hsipaw's Wan Sein village, bring the total number of IDPs in the area to around 3,000.
The SSPP/SSA-N and TNLA have called on the RCSS to withdraw their troops back to their home base in southern Shan state to ease fighting in the northern part of the region.
Fighting between the RCSS and the TNLA intensified between 2015 and the end of 2017 in northern Shan state and in April 2018, the TNLA began joint operations with the SSPP/SSA-N in Namtu township. According to the SSPP/SSA-N, talks between the two Shan ethnic armies have yielded little progress.
Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye K.M. Maung and Thane Aung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
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