Even as the global community has prevailed in bringing peace to the Gaza strip and initiating a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine, a neglected Myanmar continues to bleed owing to the civil war triggered by the February 1 military coup.
On May 20, Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon was rocked by at least four explosions killing two police officers and wounding several others. There has been an increase in attacks on the country’s armed forces, also known as Tatmadaw since March, a month after the military generals staged a coup, overthrowing a democratically-elected government.
The junta forces have continued their brutal crackdown on civilian protesters, killing over 800 people and detaining more than 4,000 including elected leaders, election commissioners, doctors, journalists, writers, artists, among others in the past three and a half months.
Compounding the problem, there have been frequent clashes between civilian resistance fighters and the junta forces in different parts of the country. Simultaneously, major ethnic rebel groups such as Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Karenni Army intensified attacks on the military.
In Chin state that shares a border with India, six soldiers, including a captain, were killed in a gun battle with the civilian fighters – Chin Defence Force – On May 20. Last week, the junta troops used artillery to bombard a town in the region and imposed martial law, forcing many residents to flee to safer locations.
The US is among several Western countries that have imposed sanctions on the military generals and the businesses linked to the junta regime.
Residents of the Kyetsarpyin Ward in Dawei, Tanintharyi, protested against Myanmar's military dictatorship this evening (May 21).
— Myanmar Now (@Myanmar_Now_Eng) May 21, 2021
This week, a fresh set of sanctions were slapped on the junta rulers. UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews has urged all countries to follow the path taken by the US, the UK and Canada.
“This week the United States has taken one of the most significant steps to date against the Myanmar junta, first by sanctioning not only individuals but the State Administrative Council itself; and second, by opening the door to targeting those who continue to do business with the junta and therefore aid and abet their relentless attacks against the people of Myanmar,” he said.
A War-Like Situation in Kachin
Meanwhile, there has been a war-like situation in the Kachin state where the rebel group Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has carried out several attacks on the military and its infrastructure.
On May 18, KIA attacked seven tankers with artillery on the suspicion that they were carrying aviation fuel for the junta, in the northern Shan state.
The militant group attacked five tanker trucks on the Union Highway, two in separate attacks on the Kutkai-Hseni road May 17 and 18, KIA information officer Colonel Naw Bu was quoted as saying by The Irrawaddy.
Earlier this month, the armed militants shot down a military helicopter in an area near the China border. Two fighter jets accompanying the chopper reportedly aborted their mission seeing heavy artillery firing by the rebels.
On May 7, there were reports that as many as 30 soldiers were killed and 80 injured as fighter jets mistakenly dropped bombs and opened fire at their own troops in the Kachin state.
The rebels had captured a strategic military base in Montauk Township in late March. Since then, the military has launched airstrikes to kill or drive away the rebels from the area.
— The Irrawaddy (Eng) (@IrrawaddyNews) May 22, 2021
A few days ago, KIA attacked the Myitkyina airbase and Bhamo Airport with artillery. Then on May 17, rockets were fired at the Taungoo airbase and its military unit in Bago, almost 100 km from Yangon.
The KIA, which had trained several batches of India’s Northeast militants in the 1980s-90s, also established links with the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, in the past.
The armed group has for long been fighting for autonomy for the northern state of Kachin within a federal Myanmar. There have been intermittent clashes between the rebels and the army since 2018 even as they were negotiating a ceasefire deal. But the situation turned worse when the military attacked a few KIA outposts after the Feb. 1 coup.
Meanwhile, China’s reluctance to openly condemn the military coup made it seem like the communist nation was siding with the junta. Anti-China sentiments have been simmering in various regions including Kachin.
Chinese products have been boycotted and Chinese factories burned. The property damage has cast a shadow on Chinese businesses in Myanmar.
Refugees In India
Caught between the military crackdown and the counterattacks by the civilian resistance fighters and the rebel groups, thousands of people, including women and children fled their town and villages.
The Chin state bordering Northeast India’s Mizoram state has seen the maximum internal displacement. According to Reuters, 15,000 people have entered India crossing the porous border this week alone.
The United Nations estimates that nearly 10,000 people had been displaced in Kachin State since mid-March.
Last month, The Eurasian Times reported that more than a dozen lawmakers from Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD) have taken shelter in India’s Mizoram state. The Chin community in Myanmar has ethnic ties with the Mizo people.
Four northeastern states — Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh – together share a 1,600-km land border with Myanmar.
In March, Mizoram had defied a federal government directive to check the influx of refugees. Chief Minister Zoramthanga shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying: “I understand that there are certain foreign policy issues where India needs to proceed cautiously. However, we can’t ignore this humanitarian crisis.”
“Mizoram cannot just remain indifferent to their sufferings. India cannot turn a blind eye to this humanitarian crisis unfolding right in front of us in our own backyard,” Zoramthanga said in his letter.
— Katherine (@LinLinMaw9) May 18, 2021
India’s position on Myanmar has raised questions as New Delhi has condemned the violence and urged for restoration of democracy without criticizing the junta rulers.
Analysts have said India’s ambiguous position has stemmed from its strategic dilemma. This author has written in an earlier piece that the Narendra Modi government does not want to ruffle the feathers of Myanmar’s junta given the fact that current military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has maintained a good rapport with New Delhi in the past.
“Another factor that works in India’s favor is Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s anti-China stance. Despite the friendly ties between China and Myanmar, the latter is aware of Beijing’s tacit support to Rohingya militants fighting against the Tatmadaw in Rakhine state.”