ASIA/MYANMAR - Escalation of the conflict, with serious suffering of the civilian population

Thursday, 28 September 2023 human rights   civil society   civil war  

Mandalay (Agenzia Fides) - The military junta of Myanmar is carrying out more and more air strikes against the civilian population; The number of aircraft and helicopter attacks doubled in the second year after the coup in February 2021, according to a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently published at the UN General Assembly. The text raises new concerns for the country's civilian population. According to the report, airstrikes have been repeatedly combined with "measures that systematically deny injured people access to medical care." Between February 2021 and July 2023, the document states, the Burmese army carried out a total of 988 airstrikes across the country; 301 of them between February 2021 and March 2022, the rest last year. At least 281 people, all civilians, were killed in the airstrikes, which it said "shocked the civilian population." In many regions of the country, the population is "fearful that they could be bombed in their homes, schools, hospitals, religious buildings and at public gatherings," it said. The airstrike with the most casualties took place on April 11, 2023, when the junta attacked a public gathering in Kanbalu village in Sagaing region, killing 150 people. The report also documents killings by the Burmese military during ground operations, arson attacks and other acts described as "war crimes". The UN High Commissioner calls for an immediate end to violence and unhindered humanitarian access to all parts of Myanmar and calls on all parties involved to respect international law and human rights, in particular the norms protecting civilians in armed conflict. According to the Burmese non-profit research organization Nyan Lynn Thit Analytica, almost 90 percent of the airstrikes took place in the Sagaing region and the states of Karen, Kayah, Kachin, Chin and Shan. The Sagaing region in northwestern Myanmar is also particularly affected. The region borders India and the Burmese state of Chin to the north, the states of Kachin and Shan to the east, and the Mandalay region to the south. It is the second largest region in Myanmar and consists of eight districts. The main ethnic group is the Bamar (Burmese), but there are other small minorities such as the Shan and the Naga (in the mountainous northwest).
To calm the rebellion in an area that is not inhabited by ethnic minorities but has become the epicenter - also symbolic - of the rebellion of the Bamar civilian population, the country's main ethnic group (which also includes the generals and soldiers of the Burmese army), the regime imposed martial law in 14 municipalities in Sagaing in February last year. Under martial law, 253 people have been arrested and tried by military courts in Sagaing in the past seven months. Of these, ten were sentenced to death, over 100 to life imprisonment and eight to long prison terms, all under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Among them were the parents of a young resistance fighter who was accused of failing to report that their son had joined the "People's Defense Forces", while others were convicted for allegedly making donations to resistance groups. Other civilians arrested include teachers or social media users who are allegedly trying to convince Burmese officials and soldiers to join the civil disobedience movement or the People's Defense Forces. The area of Sagaing Region largely belongs to the Diocese of Mandalay. Fides sources confirm that the situation is very serious as the army attacks and razes more villages. The resistance of the young fighters, all ethnic Bamar, is well organized in the region. For this reason, the junta is trying to suppress any form of rebellion in Sagaing. In addition, this area is rich in resources and is a necessary passage to reach the Chin state, where the guerrillas of this ethnic group fight. "The soldiers are often under the influence of drugs and commit atrocious acts", reports a local Fides source who requests anonymity for security reasons. Even churches have not been spared from the violence, such as the 129-year-old Catholic Church of the Assumption in the village of Chan Thar, which was set on fire last January. Priests and parish priests stay in the parishes as long as they can, sometimes fleeing into the forests with the civilian population to escape the violence. There are also internally displaced people in many other dioceses. The number of internally displaced people in Myanmar grew by 680,000 in the first half of 2023, as reported by the independent research group "Institute for Strategy and Policy – Myanmar" (ISP – Myanmar), a non-governmental think-tank, based in Thailand. The total number of people displaced from their homes and villages since the military ousted the democratically elected government in a coup in February 2021 has exceeded 2.6 million people, according to ISP. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 28/9/2023)