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Myanmar: Civilians caught between military and militias

June 28, 2021

Armed resistance groups opposing Myanmar's military regime have inflicted heavy casualties. However, a new report warns the military's backlash could cause a humanitarian catastrophe.

Myanmar soldiers stand next to a military truck in Yangon
Fighting between the military junta and militia groups threatens protracted violenceImage: Uncredited/AP Photot/picture alliance

As newly organized "self-defense" groups step up attacks on Myanmar's military, "indiscriminate retaliation" is putting the civil population at risk and displacing thousands of people, the International Crisis Group said in a report released Monday.

Myanmar's military junta, called the Tatmadaw, has violently cracked down on resistance to its rule since seizing power in a coup on February 1. 

More than 880 people have been killed in clashes between anti-junta protesters and security forces in cities across Myanmar, according to a local monitoring group. 

However, the rise of organized militia groups, which are leading campaigns of armed resistance against the Tatmadaw, could send the country into a protracted downward spiral of violence, the report warns. 

Junta controls soldiers' lives

What is the connection between civilians and militias? 

The report said the Tatmadaw uses a strategy deliberately targeting civilians in a bid to deny insurgents food, funds, recruits and intelligence on troop movements.

The emergence of new "self-defense" groups to oppose the Tatmadaw has led to "heavy handed" retaliation that has "displaced tens of thousands of men, women and children," it added. 

"Faced with armed insurrection, the Tatmadaw can be expected to unleash its military might against civilians," the International Crisis Group said.

In areas like northwest Myanmar, the report said local hunters are using hunting rifles and weapons manufactured at makeshift jungle factories to fight Tatmadaw soldiers.

The report added that new militias may try to "seek sources beyond the ad hoc community donations that have so far sustained them."

UN warns of internal displacement 

The UN warned last week that 230,000 people have been displaced by fighting in Myanmar and are in need of aid.

Fighting has been costly for communities in regions like northern Kachin and Shan states, where ethnic minority armies have a long history of hostilities with the Tatmadaw.

Relief operations were being hindered by armed clashes and violence, the UN said. 

The International Crisis Group said in its report that "Local networks and humanitarian agencies are unable to adequately assist" displaced people.

This is due to "security and access restrictions, including military arrests, confiscation of supplies, and killings of those trying to deliver aid."

rm/wmr  (AFP, Reuters)