Minorities in Myanmar’s border areas face new fear since coup


JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Before each rainy season, Lu Lu Aung and other farmers living in a camp for internally displaced persons in Myanmar’s far north Kachin State returned to the village from which they had fled. and they planted crops that would help them feed on arrival. year.

But this year, in the wake of the February military coup, with the rains not far behind, farmers rarely leave their makeshift homes and dare not leave their camp. They say it is simply too dangerous to risk running into soldiers from the Myanmar army or its aligned militias.

“We can’t go anywhere and we can’t do anything since the coup,” Lu Lu Aung said. “Every night, we hear the sounds of fighter jets flying so close to our camp.”

The deadly crackdown by the military against protesters in large central cities like Yangon and Mandalay has received a lot of attention since the coup that toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. But far away in Myanmar’s borderlands, Lu Lu Aung and millions of people from Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups face increasing uncertainty and waning security as long-standing conflicts between the military and the military Minority guerrillas erupt again.

It’s a situation that came to the fore last week when the military launched deadly airstrikes against Karen guerrillas in their homeland on the eastern border, displacing thousands and sending civilians fleeing to neighboring Thailand.

Several of the rebel armies have threatened to join forces if the killing of civilians is not stopped, while a group made up of members of the deposed government has raised the idea of ​​creating a new army that includes the rebel groups. The UN special envoy for Myanmar, meanwhile, warned that the country faces the possibility of a civil war.

Ethnic minorities make up about 40% of Myanmar’s 52 million people, but the central government and military leadership have long been dominated by the country’s ethnic Burmese majority. Since independence from Great Britain in 1948, more than a dozen ethnic groups have been seeking greater autonomy, and some have maintained their own independent armies.

That has put them at odds with Myanmar’s ultra-nationalist generals, who have long seen any cessions of territory, especially those in border areas that are often rich in natural resources, as amounting to treason and have fought ruthlessly against the armies. rebels with only occasional periods of ceasefire.

The violence has led to accusations of abuses against all parties, such as arbitrary taxation of civilians and forced recruitment, and according to the United Nations has displaced some 239,000 people since 2011 alone. That does not include the more than 800,000 minority Rohingya who they fled to Bangladesh to escape a military campaign that the UN has called ethnic cleansing.

Since February, protests against the coup have occurred in every border state, and security forces have responded as much as elsewhere with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. But residents and observers say the post-coup situation in geographically isolated border areas has been exacerbated by increased skirmishes between the army and armed ethnic organizations vying for power and territory.

Lu Lu Aung, who hails from the Kachin ethnic group, said he took part in the protests but stopped because it was too dangerous now. He said Myanmar security forces and aligned militias recently occupied his old village where they planted crops and no one left the camp because they feared they would be forced to work for the army.

“Our students can no longer continue education and it is very difficult for adults to find a job and earn money,” he said.

Humanitarian aid for civilians in border areas – already strained by the pandemic as well as the inherent difficulty faced by outside groups operating in many areas – has also been difficult since the coup.

Communications have been paralyzed, banks have closed and security has become increasingly uncertain, said the director of a Myanmar-based organization that supports displaced people who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“There is no more humanitarian aid and support,” he said.

In eastern Karen state, where airstrikes have displaced thousands of people, there are concerns that the arrival of the rainy season could exacerbate an already complicated humanitarian situation over reports that Thailand has returned many of the civilians who fled. Thailand has said that those who returned to Myanmar did so voluntarily.

However, there are parts of the country’s border areas that have hardly been affected by the coup.

In Wa State, a border region with China and Thailand that has its own government, army, and ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar military, videos shared online show that life continues as usual, including the launch of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus.

Near Bangladesh in the coastal state of Rakhine, from where the Rohingya were expelled and where violent clashes with the Arakan Army group have been going on for years, the junta last month removed the group from its list of terrorist groups, thereby that raised hopes of a decrease in hostilities. Arakan’s army, unlike other armed groups, had not criticized the coup.

However, since then, the group has issued a statement declaring its right to defend its territory and civilians against military attacks, leading some to fear a further escalation of the fighting.

Other armed groups have issued similar statements. Some, like the Karen National Union, have provided protection to civilians marching in protests against the coup.

Such actions have contributed to calls for a “federal army” that brings together armed ethnic groups from across the country. But analysts say that vision would be difficult to achieve due to logistical challenges and political disagreements between the groups.

“These groups are not in a position where they can provide the necessary support against the Myanmar military in urban centers with large populations, or really too far from their own regions,” said Ronan Lee, a visiting scholar from Queen Mary University of London. State initiative against crime.

Despite the uncertainty of things to come, some minority activists say they have been encouraged since the coup by the increased focus on the role that ethnic groups can play in Myanmar’s future. They also say there seems to be a greater understanding, at least among anti-coup protesters, of the struggle that minorities have faced for so long.

“If there is a silver lining to all this, that is it,” said one activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety.

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