Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Myanmar conflict: 3 million forced out of homes as fighting intensifies between military regime and opposition forces

Photo: AP

The ongoing conflict in Myanmar has forcibly displaced more than 3 million people, according to the United Nations reports.

The number of civilians forced to flee their homes saw an increase of 50% in the last six months leading to what the UN calls a “bleak milestone” for the country with a total population of 56 million.

The fierce fight between the military and armed resistance groups trying to remove the generals who seized power in a coup in February 2021 has taken an ugly turn in the last few weeks.

“Myanmar stands at the precipice in 2024 with a deepening humanitarian crisis that has spiraled since the military takeover in February 2021 and the consequent conflicts in many parts of the country, driving record numbers of people to abandon their homes seeking safety,” the office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar said in a statement on Monday.

As the opposition forces made substantial gains, the military government (Junta) hell bent on suppressing resistance are now carrying out an indiscriminate onslaught against the civilians. The direct combats taking place in civilian areas are also worsening the situation.

The civilian casualties are rising sharply as regime troops increasingly turn toward brutal retaliation tactics with air, naval and artillery strikes on hospitals, residence complexes and other facilities.

Of the 3 million internally displaced population, around 90 percent were forced out of their native villages as an outcome of the conflict triggered by the coup, the UN highlighted.

Almost half of the displaced were from the northwestern regions of Chin, Magway and Sagaing, with more than 900,000 in the southeast. The western state of Rakhine, where more than 356,000 people live, was also hit by relentless strikes.

This is the same province where a brutal military crackdown in 2017 forced more than 750,000 mostly Muslim Rohingyas to migrate to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Military forces, who are far better armed than the resistance forces, now control less than half the country but hold much of central Myanmar including the capital, Naypyidaw — recently targeted by drone attacks — and the largest city, Yangon.

With the collapse of health care and food supply systems, 18.6 million people including 6 million children are in dire need.

Myanmar was pushed into the crisis when Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, resulting in mass protests that later evolved into an armed uprising when the military reacted with brutal force.

Opposition in Myanmar, also known as Burma, gained new momentum in October 2021 when major militias known collectively as the Three Brotherhood Alliance formed a joint offensive.

The Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, along with other powerful militias formed by Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, launched large-scale operations.

In recent weeks, the military has also been confronting ethnic Karen groups for control of Myawaddy, a major trade hub on the border with Thailand, Al Jazeera reported.

According to Reuters, Myanmar’s military chief has discussed plans to hold an election in the country with former Cambodian leader Hun Sen in talks this week.

The military government has promised repeatedly to bring back democracy to Myanmar but has given no timeframe for when an election will happen.

Last year, life-saving humanitarian aid was prevented from reaching people in need due to the web of legal, bureaucratic and financial hurdles put up by the military, UN human rights chief Volker Turk accused.

The generals accused of war crimes including launching air attacks on civilians and burning villages to the ground, have so far failed to adhere to a five-point peace plan that it agreed to with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in April 2021.

More than 20,000 people are in prisons. Aung San Suu Kyi, whose exact whereabouts are unknown, is serving a combined 27-year sentence after a secret trial in a military court.

About 5,000 people have been killed by the military since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

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