More than 10,000 people have fled their homes in Myanmar’s Chin state amid renewed fighting between junta troops and anti-coup militias in the region, according to sources, who reported casualties from clashes on Tuesday.
A refugee told RFA that thousands had fled Mindat township to the surrounding mountains and jungle to escape the fighting, which resumed on June 3, but said the military had continued to target civilians, and was even firing artillery at camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
“They are trying to attack our camps in three columns,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal.
“We have no more rice supplies. The rainy season is here now, and we need tarpaulins. We fled our homes to get away from the fighting, but now we will have to run again. It is more difficult to travel through the jungle during this time of year.”
Reports of the scale of the exodus on the western flank of Myanmar came as the United Nations called for urgent help to assist an estimated 100,000 people who have fled fighting in eastern Kayah state, saying insecurity and lack of access to remote parts of the region have hampered its efforts to provide aid.
As a result of decades of military conflict between the government military and ethnic armies that control most of the borderlands of the country of 54 million people, Myanmar had more than 500,000 IDPs at the end of 2020, two months before the military takeover, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Norwegian NGO.
The members of the Chinland Defense Force (CDF) militia, a network of volunteers that formed in April, are taking on Myanmar’s army—the second largest in Southeast Asia—with slingshots and the same crude flintlock “Tumee” rifles their forefathers used to fight off British colonizers in the 1880s. The CDF said it had killed some 100 junta troops between March and May.
On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military staged a coup, seizing power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which it says won a landslide victory in November 2020 general elections because of voter fraud. The junta has provided no evidence to back up its claims, prompting widespread demonstrations by citizens from all walks of life.
Following the Feb. 1 coup, most Chins joined compatriots across Myanmar in daily street protests, only to be met by deadly military violence that has killed hundreds of civilians nationwide. In the three months to May 1 alone, 28 civilians in Chin state were killed and more than 200 were arrested, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).
The CHRO estimates that some 40,000 civilians have fled their homes throughout Chin state since May.
Fighters of the CDF were engaged in daily battles from May 12 until May 15, when the junta occupied Mindat with 1,000 fully armed troops who used civilians as human shields and sprayed gunfire indiscriminately, the CHRO said recently.
The CDF pulled out May 16 to protect civilians from further artillery attacks and fire from helicopter gunships, Chin fighters have said, but fighting resumed on June 3 and both sides have suffered casualties.
A CDF spokesman, who also declined to be named, told RFA Tuesday that clashes have been on the uptick in Mindat since last week, with residents “fighting back against the military with all available weapons.”
“The fighting is continuing—an artillery shell landed on a location in [nearby] Chuangzon township this morning, killing one of our men and wounding four others,” he said, adding that 22 CDF fighters have been killed by the military in the Mindat area since hostilities initially broke out in April.
The spokesman said that some 20 militiamen detained at a police station in Mindat since the fighting resumed have been denied food since Sunday.
Minders at the police station had only been providing those in custody with sporadic meals before stopping entirely over the weekend, the spokesman said.
“More than 20 people detained at the police station have no food. They haven’t had meals and have only been drinking water for [the last] two days,” he said, calling for donations to provide the detainees because “the police do not care about us.”
“The detainees were given only boiled rice once a day but haven’t even had that since Sunday. They only drank water. I heard some guys have been trying to contact their families to ask for food.”
It was not immediately clear whether food was being intentionally withheld from the detainees or if supplies were running low amid the fighting that has made the area too dangerous for aid groups to enter.
Meanwhile, a clash between the military and members of the People’s Defense Force (PDF) militia in neighboring Sagaing region also erupted Tuesday near Yin village in Shwebo district’s Tabayin township, leaving three soldiers injured, according to initial reports.
“I think [the military] came here because of a mine explosion three days ago,” a PDF source told RFA, adding that around 50 troops arrived Tuesday in three vehicles.
“They were shooting at us with automatic weapons but none of us were hit. Our men wounded three of them.”
According to the PDF member, the military proceeded on to Mukan Gyi village, where fighting broke out again with another branch of the militia.
A clash between the military and members of the PDF in Sagaing also took place on Sunday near Yinmabin township’s Si Hlaung village, according to residents, forcing more than 1,000 people to flee.
The military’s Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun was not available for comment Tuesday and RFA was unable to independently confirm the number of casualties in the fighting in either Chin state or Sagaing region.
Full-blown refugee crisis
Myanmar’s internal refugee crisis is dire and getting worse. IDPs in the country’s remote regions are crowded in makeshift camps that lack basic necessities, including food and water and medical supplies.
In addition to the reports from Chin state and Sagaing region, which border India, aid workers in eastern Kayah state along Myanmar’s frontier with Thailand estimate that clashes between the military and local militias there prompted some 100,000 people to flee their homes in May alone.
On Tuesday, the United Nations in Myanmar voiced concern about what it called “the rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Kayah state and other areas in southeastern Myanmar.”
The U.N. specifically referred to the estimated 100,000 men, women, and children in Kayah that it said are mostly seeking safety in host communities and forests across the state and southern parts of Myanmar’s Shan state, noting that the crisis could lead refugees to spill across international borders, as seen in other parts of the country. Some 15,000 civilians are believed to have fled across the border into India’s state of Mizoram to escape fighting in Chin state in recent weeks.
“The United Nations reiterates its earlier calls for all parties to urgently take the necessary measures and precautions to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, particularly protected objects such as medical units and personnel, and to adhere to the fundamental principles of distinction, necessity, proportionality and protection,” the U.N. said in a statement.
The U.N. stressed the urgent need for food, water, shelter, fuel, and access to healthcare for people fleeing the fighting, saying that the aid it has distributed is insufficient—particularly for those in remote locations, where insecurity, travel restrictions, and poor road conditions are delaying the delivery of supplies.
“The United Nations calls on the security forces to allow safe passage of humanitarian supplies and personnel and to facilitate the direct provision of relief assistance by the U.N. and its partners to all those in need in Kayah, as well as other states and regions across the country where there are urgent humanitarian needs,” the statement said.
According to the Thailand-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), 857 civilians have been killed and more than 4,700 people have been arrested in Myanmar since the military coup.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.