Thousands of residents of a hilltown in Northwest Myanmar fled to jungles, villages, and valleys on Monday May 17, seeking refuge from state troop attacks on local militias. 5,000 to 8,000 people have been displaced with short reserves of food and water. The latest call for restraint comes from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in a tweet, to urge security forces to ensure the safety of children in Mindat, a town particularly hard hit by the junta.
“We are running for our lives”, one activist told the BBC, “Thousands are in the forest. Only babies and old people are left in the town. Almost all the young people have taken up weapons and joined the CDF”.
Mindat, a town about 100 km from the Indian border in Chin state and with a population of fewer than 50,000 people, has experienced intense attacks that have led to protests and the emergence of the Chinland Defense Force (CDF). Martial law was declared in Mindat on Thursday before the army launched its assault, using artillery and helicopters against the newly formed CDF that is mostly backed by hunting rifles. As soldiers enter the town, reportedly using civilians as human shields, the CDF has retreated into jungles, along with residents.
Since the brutal February 2021 coup, the military junta has retaken control of Myanmar under the premise of fraudulent election results and ousted the State Counsellor of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi. Additionally, the junta-appointed election commission has dissolved the political party, National League of Democracy. Since the military crackdown, hundreds of people have been killed and with near-daily protests. Now, opponents of the junta have formed an undercover National Unity Government and the Chinland Defense Force to challenge the military rule.
The United States, United Kingdom, and Canada have imposed more sanctions against businesses and individuals tied to the junta. U.S Secretary Antony Blinken has criticized the junta’s lack of attempt to restore Myanmar’s democracy and called on all countries to consider economic pressures. Although such efforts by the US, Britain, and Canada are in line with promoting peace and discouraging violence, they are not effective long-term tools as sanctions from these particular countries don’t affect Myanmar’s economy gravely. Even Blinken has pointed out in a statement that, “Our actions today underscore our resolve and that of our partners to apply political and financial pressure on the regime as long as it fails to stop violence and take meaningful action to respect the will of the people.” According to the World Integrated Trade Solution, Myanmar’s biggest trade partners are China, Thailand, Japan, and India. Hence, encouraging Myanmar’s more direct trade partners to condemn the violent military rule, as well as providing immediate humanitarian assistance, are more effective ways to intervene and place pressure on Myanmar’s junta.