On May 24, in the Kachin State of Myanmar, Awng Di, 13, went to her aunt’s house at noon to feed her chickens. Thirty minutes later, heavy artillery fell on the chicken coop; Awng Di died before reaching the nearby clinic.
“Our family has never been involved in politics … We just try to survive,” Awng Di’s mother told Al Jazeera. “Now I want to curse.” [the military soldiers] every time I see them. “
The city of Momauk, where Awng Di was from, has been the site of clashes between the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s army, and the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of an ethnic armed organization, since April. The increase in violence in Momauk and other parts of Kachin State has displaced more than 11,000 people, according to UN estimates.
Clashes in Momauk mark a wider escalation in fighting across the country since the February 1 military coup, as decades-long conflicts between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed organizations in Myanmar’s border areas resume or accelerate. , and civil defense forces emerge in cantons they had not seen before fighting.
In response to increasing armed resistance, the Tatmadaw launched indiscriminate air and ground attacks on civilian areas, displacing 230,000 people since the coup. Security forces also looted and burned houses, blocked access to aid and the transport of aid products, restricted water supply, cut off telecommunications networks, bombed shelters, and killed people. and arrested volunteers seeking to provide humanitarian assistance.
According to Naw Htoo Htoo, program director of Karen’s Human Rights Group, Tatmadaw’s patterns of violence since the coup mark the continuation of a strategy called four cuts, which the military has begun to implement in the state. Karen in the 1960s and has since deployed against civilian populations in other areas of ethnic minority.
“[The Tatmadaw] don’t use words’four cuts“Plus, but the strategy is definitely the same as the four cuts they’ve been using on ethnic people for more than 70 years,” said Naw Htoo Htoo.
Through means that include limiting access to food, funds, intelligence, and recruits, the strategy seeks to starve the armed resistance support base and transform civilians into resistance groups. .
In addition to Karen State, the armed forces have also been pursuing the strategy in areas including Kachin and Rakhine states, most notably in northern Rakhine State in 2017 when theirliquidation operations‘has sent hundreds of thousands of Rohingya mostly Muslims to flee across the border into Bangladesh.
According to Kim Jolliffe, an independent researcher focused on security and conflict in Myanmar, the four-pronged strategy “treats civilians not only as“ collateral damage ”but as a central resource on the battlefield.
“They are directly targeted with extreme violence and see their livelihoods intentionally destroyed so that armed groups cannot find sanctuary and civilian support,” he told Al Jazeera.
Since the coup, the Tatmadaw appears to have extended the use of four cuttings across the country, even in areas predominantly populated by Bamar’s ethnic majority. In late March, after security forces ransacked homes in Gangaw commune in the central Magway region, locals began fighting gunfire. According to local media group Myanmar Now, Tatmadaw responded with heavy explosives and machine guns that killed four people and left more than 10,000 fugitives in the forest.
The Pauk commune of the Magway Region also saw indiscriminate violence on the night of June 15, when more than 200 houses in Kinma village were burnt down, killing an elderly couple trapped in their home. Two Kinma residents who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity said they knew of no clashes that led to the fire, but according to Myanmar Now, the incident happened days after clashes between local resistance fighters and police and soldiers in civilization.
One of the villagers told Al Jazeera that he saw at least nine people habitually entering the village around 11pm on June 15, setting fire to houses and firing on the country’s cattle, pigs and buffaloes.
Tatmadaw blamed the incident on 40 “terrorists” and said the media accusing him of robbing the country were trying to discredit him.
The military spokesman did not respond to repeated calls from Al Jazeera seeking comments on incidents of violence or the use of the “four-fold” strategy.
Now, Kinma residents are scattered in nearby villages or staying in makeshift shelters in the jungle, where they are short of food and supplies, according to Than Tun Aung, the pseudonym of one of the two Kinma villagers interviewed by Al Jazeera. . “Gathering aid is challenging because there could be police or soldiers along the way,” he said. “We’re always careful and ready to run.”
“All lives are threatened”
Kayah State and southern Shan State, which had been peaceful before the coup, have also been the target of intense Tatmadaw attacks since May 23, when a group called the State Defense Forces Karenni people overran a police station in the town of Moebye in Shan Pekon commune of the State and the fighting spread rapidly in the region. While civil defense fighters have made a targeted ambush with homemade weapons, the Tatmadaw has launched what the UN described as “indiscriminate attacks”, firing artillery and rifles into civilian areas and displacing 100,000 people, most of which are now in nearby forests.
Churches, where some have sought refuge, have been repeatedly attacked, including the Church of the Sacred Heart in the Loikaw village of Kayah State, which was bombed on May 24, killing four people.
Delivering aid to Kayah and Shan is difficult and dangerous. The Tatmadaw blocked the flow of goods into communities affected by the conflict, killed and arrested aid volunteers, and killed two displaced people while trying to take rice from their homes.
Joseph Reh, a volunteer assistant in the city of Pekon who preferred that his real name not be disclosed for security reasons, told Al Jazeera that his group initially used white flags to provide aid in the hope that the protect him, but that security forces have shot him anyway.
His group collected food and relief items at a school, but was initially unable to distribute the clothes because of the risk of being attacked. In the afternoon of June 8, when volunteers tried to bring sacks of rice to the displaced people hiding in the mountains, he said security forces had fired against the group’s van, forcing them to return. back.
“Because of this, they have discovered where we store our food and supplies,” Joseph Reh said. “They came to the school, they brought all our supplies to a camp, and they burned them” that evening. In total, he said more than 80 bags of rice were destroyed, as well as stockpiles of other dry goods, medical supplies, an ambulance and a car.
“They destroyed things that they were not going to destroy and that were not in line with the defending forces of the people they were fighting,” Joseph Reh said. “The food supplies they burned were only for displaced people … The ambulance they burned was not at all related to the fight. It said RESCUE and had a red cross logo.”
According to Joseph Reh, security forces fired into the mountains for the next two days, further limiting aid.
In addition to the shortage of food and supplies, displaced people are not getting enough shelter and medical care. In the city of Mindat in Chin State, where civil defense forces seized shotguns and homemade weapons in mid-May, the Tatmadaw launched heavy armed attacks that displaced more than 20,000 people. At least six displaced people have died due to lack of access to health care, according to Radio Free Asia.
“Everything is under military control and all lives are threatened,” said Salai Shane, the pseudonym of the head of a voluntary emergency response group in Mindat. He described it as “extremely difficult” when trying to access displaced people.
On 13 June, one of his group’s vehicles was taken on a journey from Pakokku, Magway region, to Mindat, while transporting food and raincoats; From there Salai Shane lost contact with the driver. Security forces arrested another member of the group on June 19 and confiscated his motorcycle and rescue supplies he was transporting to the scene. During a week in custody, he was beaten and interrogated, according to Salai Shane’s account.
With aid volunteers who have been shot dead in Kayah State, Salai Shane says he is particularly afraid of providing foot help. “Sometimes there isn’t a road for motorcycles and we have to carry items by ourselves for several trips,” he said. “If we are in the forest or in the jungle, we can be killed and our bodies disappeared.”
The military feeds the rage
According to independent researcher Kim Jolliffe, the Tatmadaw is willing to do “unfathomable things” to the general public to maintain control. “He knows only one way to deal with the opposition and that is to beat all the dissident elements of the society in submission by extreme force,” he said.
But while the four-pronged strategy may seek to turn the public against armed resistance or weaken the decision, Naw Htoo Htoo of the Human Rights Group Karen says the approach is likely to pick up.
“In the short term, there could be some impact on armed resistance due to lack of food and water and limited access to resources, but in the long run, [the Tatmadaw] he will not be able to govern anywhere, “he said.” The more they oppress the people, the stronger the civilians become, because when they deliberately attack everyone, the people hate them more. “
Victims of Tatmadaw violence since the coup tell Al Jazeera that the experiences have cemented his hatred for security forces and made him even more determined to secure his fall.
“It will never be possible for us to see the army positively,” Than Tun Aung of Kinma village told Al Jazeera. “We just want to continue to live in peace as farmers … Should we end this military regime or suffer for the rest of our lives.”
In Mindat, Salai Shane came to a similar conclusion. “If the civil defense forces could defeat the army and drive them out of the area, we would be able to freely resume activities and agriculture and live a better life,” he said. “We cannot separate the two: armed resistance groups are made up of civilians, because we all hate the military regime and aim to abolish it. Limiting aid to civilians will delay only the armed resistance movement, but it can’t stop it. ”