Myanmar’s restive border provinces, which are home to substantial ethnic minority populations, have experienced a recent increase in violence by the country’s military junta and are facing a terrible humanitarian catastrophe, activists and relief groups warned Friday.
“Our country is on the brink of becoming a failed state, all due to the direct result of the military’s unlawful and brutal coup attempt,” said Khin Ohmar, chairperson of Progressive Voice’s advisory board.
“Since the coup, what we have seen is an intensification of offensives by the Myanmar military in ethnic areas that is reaching extreme heights,” she said during a panel discussion on Zoom hosted by ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.
Khin Ohmar said military operations, including airstrikes and mortar attacks, against ethnic insurgent groups have led to the displacement of over 150,000 people in Karen, Chin, Kachin, Karenni and Shan states.
Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, arresting the country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other high-ranking government officials.
The military, known as the Tatmadaw, called a yearlong state of emergency over alleged irregularities with parliamentary elections held in November, during which Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy Party won 399 of the 462 seats in parliament.
An ongoing public protest movement has seen a brutal crackdown by the junta, with 845 civilians killed and over 5,600 arrested, according to the latest daily figures from the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners.
Since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948, armed forces have also been fighting ethnic insurgency groups in borderland areas.
According to campaigners, the situation in the border states is escalating because the Tatmadaw has been isolating conflict-torn areas and blocking humanitarian help from reaching displaced people.
According to Michael Suantak, director of Alternative Solutions for Rural Communities, “The military is blocking all the support and humanitarian aid,” to Chin state in western Myanmar.
Suantak claims that the COVID-19 epidemic is being utilised as an excuse to increase border control.
“The military has cut off communications and cut the municipal water system and food supplies” to Chin state, Suantak said. “The main transportation [routes] from Yangon and Mandalay have been stopped since [Thursday].”
Maw Day Myar, a member of the Karenni National Women’s Organization, said humanitarian aid is also being blocked to Karenni state, located on the border with Thailand in the eastern part of the country. She said some 80,000 internally displaced people, many of them women and children, have fled into jungle areas away from the violence.
“It is very dangerous for [the IDPs] to move around because every road is blocked,” she said. “They are currently in urgent need of assistance. Most areas cannot access clean water. If the military keeps blocking transportation, there will be a food shortage within a week.”
The United States and other nations have slapped sanctions on the military junta and related organisations, but the international community’s overall response to the situation in Myanmar has been terribly unsatisfactory, according to campaigners on Friday.
Southeast Asian leaders struck a five-point agreement in April with junta commander Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to cease the bloodshed in Myanmar, but implementation has been delayed, with no special envoy assigned.
According to APHR board member Kasit Piromya, the consensus “does not seem to be moving forwards,”
Kasit, who was former foreign minister of Thailand, slammed the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations over recent reports that they lobbied the United Nations to drop a call for an arms embargo on the Myanmar military.
“It is a very shameful act on the part of my government and all the other ASEAN leaders,” Kasit said. “The leaders of the other ASEAN states are part and part of these atrocities [in Myanmar]. They are in collusion.”
The U.N. Security Council has condemned the violence in Myanmar but has not taken any substantive action, with many observers believing members China or Russia would block any legally binding moves such as an arms embargo.
The United Nations has shown a “complete lack of political will,” to address the deepening crisis, Khin Ohmar said.
“There are no signs of the military stopping their violence,” she said. “The question now to the international community is: What are you going to do?”