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Myanmar: Military starving civilians in 'brutal' anti-resistance campaign

The Myanmar military has been obstructing civilians’ access to crucial aid and medical supplies as part of its suppression of armed resistance to February coup, Amnesty International said today (17 Dec), as it published new research findings.

As part of a brutal war against armed resistance fighters, the Myanmar military has not only launched indiscriminate airstrikes and burned hundreds of homes, but  has also cut off vital aid supplies and detained humanitarian workers across various parts of the country.

Amnesty interviewed displaced civilians and local aid workers and volunteers, gathering powerful eyewitness accounts highlighting the military’s systematic attempts to starve people and prevent them from accessing health care.

Humanitarian workers described how the military has severely limited aid responses, including by arresting aid workers and confiscating or destroying food, medicine and relief supplies or restricting their transport.

For more than six decades, the Myanmar military has applied a “four cuts” strategy in the country’s border areas, cutting off essential resources to destroy the support base of ethnic armed organisations fighting for self-determination. 

Now, it has expanded these tactics to areas where new People’s Defence Forces have emerged, as it continues to violently crack down on all forms of resistance to the February coup. The military’s use of the four cuts strategy has had devastating consequences for the civilian population.

The military has also shut down the internet in 24 townships in central and northwestern Myanmar, including Yinmarbin, since September.

See case examples below.

Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s Deputy Southeast Asia Director, said:

“The military is denying life-saving aid to people. They are strangling their lifelines such as food and medical supply routes, and threatening medical workers who only want to save lives.

“We will see more lives lost if the military continues this brutal campaign against its own people.

“The military must allow full access for humanitarian workers in affected regions.”

Barely surviving in the forest

Across Myanmar, people have fled to the forests to shelter from fighting near their homes, where conditions are extremely harsh and food and proper shelter are extremely limited.

Katherine* (names have been changed for security) was entering the second trimester of her pregnancy when fighting between military forces and the combined forces of civilian resistance groups and ethnic armed organisations erupted across Kayah State in May. She and her husband fled into the forest with their two children. Around seven months into Katherine’s pregnancy, she began vomiting and suffering from dizzy spells, fatigue and shortness of breath. On one occasion, she had seizures. By eight months, her limbs had swelled, and she had lost the ability to walk. She went into labour in October. Even though a midwife was present, neither Katherine nor her baby survived.

Her husband told Amnesty:

“She could not access nutritious food or warm shelter. My wife faced difficulties during her pregnancy, and she became weak and unable to deliver the baby.”

Tial Lian*, aged 30, fled into the forest from her village in Chin State’s Mindat township with her husband, two children, her father and grandmother when clashes escalated in May.

Because her father, aged 77, and grandmother, whose age is thought to be over 100, have limited mobility, Tial Lian and her husband carried them on their backs during their escape. The family has since been going in and out of the forest, where Tial Lian and her husband have been constructing a small shelter out of tarpaulin.

Tial Lian said:

“Sometimes, rats gnaw holes in the tarpaulin, which offers little protection from the elements. “When it rains, our tarpaulin cannot bear the weight of the water. We get soaked, and our blankets too.”

The family also sometimes go for days without eating because they do not dare to make a fire when soldiers are nearby.

Soldiers seize and burn bags of rice

In southern Shan State’s Moebye township, where fighting broke out in late May, a humanitarian response team made up of local youth tried to send relief supplies to displaced people hiding in the mountains on the morning of 8 June, according to a member of the team. The person, who is not being identified for fears of reprisals, said he and other members of the team loaded a van with sacks of rice at a school being used as a storehouse. However, when the van set off soldiers opened fire on it and the van was unable to get through.

That night, the aid volunteer watched from a distance as soldiers emptied the storehouse of its contents and burned them. More than 80 bags of rice, as well as other food items, medical supplies and petrol containers were destroyed, with soldiers also destroying an ambulance. “They burned everything except the portable toilets,” said the volunteer.

White flags removed from aid vehicles to avoid military attention

Another civil society worker described similar challenges when attempting to distribute aid in Kayah State’s Loikaw, Demoso and Hpruso townships.

“Soldiers stop and check a lot when we send food and tarpaulins for shelters and sometimes, we aren't allowed to pass through. When we transport supplies, we cannot do it openly.”

The aid worker said her organisation has removed the white flags it initially displayed on its vehicles to signal its relief efforts, and has also switched to purchasing aid in small quantities to try to avoid detection by the military authorities

The risks of transporting goods have also made it hard to find a driver in areas with ongoing fighting in Chin and Sagaing region where her organisation operates, she said. “There were times when we had to negotiate and beg [drivers] to deliver food,” she said.

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