Over 20,000 people displaced in southeast Myanmar suffering food shortage ‘emergency’ 

More than 20,000 people who fled their homes in territory held by Karen National Union (KNU) rebels are in urgent need of food and other aid, a rights group has said, as fighting that has raged in the area for months becomes even more intense. 

“You could say this is an emergency situation for the IDPs,” said Naw Htoo Htoo, spokesperson for the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), using a term that stands for internally displaced people. 

“There were around 20,000 IDPs as of late-March. That number has been slowly increasing… and is still increasing. The battles have not stopped and have spread to even more places,” she told Myanmar Now. 

It is the most dire situation that Karen IDPs have faced since last year’s military coup threw the region back into war following a fragile ceasefire, she said.  

She said it was vital for international aid groups to provide help, but the junta has imposed road closures and other restrictions that have made it extremely difficult to reach those in need. 

Among those displaced is the entire population of Htee Muu Hta village in Myawaddy Township, who fled following a junta airstrike on April 12 and have been sheltering on farms and plantations with little to no food, according to KIC, a local news outlet.  

“Food is the main thing that we need right now,” said Nobel, a local aid volunteer helping displaced people in Myawaddy. “Food can be scarce at times as we can only get supplies once a week, since all import routes from Thailand have been blocked.” 

There are over 1,000 IDPs from the Lay Kay Kaw area, most of whom come from Htee Mei Wah Khee and Hpa Lu villages, he said. “Battles have been happening in Lay Kay Kaw every day and we don’t know when they’ll be able to go back,” he said. “I built them little huts as the rainy season is coming.” 

Naw Htoo Htoo, of KHRG, said many of those displaced are supposed to be planting crops now that the rainy season is approaching, but cannot return home to do so, meaning they face yet more severe hardship in the coming months. 

“Seventy percent of the farmers from Karen State make barely enough money to support their families,” she said. “Once they stop farming, they won’t even have enough money for food.”

“They need to burn the farmlands now as they need to start planting when the rainy season starts. But they dare not go home as they only barely escaped alive. They are going to have to face food insecurity as well if help from donors and humanitarian organisations doesn’t arrive in time,” she added. 

The ruins of a high school in Day Bu No village, Hpapun Township, following a military airstrike on March 27 (KNU)

Heavy junta casualties 

The intense fighting in KNU territories since the start of March has taken a heavy toll on the junta’s forces. Almost 500 of the regime’s soldiers have been killed and another 300 injured in the clashes, according to the KNU. Meanwhile 34 KNU fighters have been killed and 52 injured, it added.  

Those losses have come amid daily fighting in multiple areas, with roughly 500 clashes reported across the region. Much of the fighting has been concentrated in Kawkareik Township, controlled by the KNU’s Brigade 6. 

The junta has launched airstrikes and used heavy artillery, killing four civilians and injuring eight others since March, the KNU said. “The battles have already spread to the villages in the innermost part of Kawkareik,” said Naw Htoo Htoo. 

“Villagers… are afraid of running into soldiers and getting killed. The military is employing the techniques it used to cut off supplies to its enemies back in the 1960s. They are also using human shields,” she added. “Women also have to live in fear of getting sexually assaulted.”

Padoh Saw Taw Nee, the KNU spokesperson, said that at least between one and two junta soldiers were dying every day in the clashes. Junta soldiers fared especially badly during fighting around Lay Kay Kaw on April 10, he said.

“The battle on April 10 was particularly serious. The entire column was obliterated and a captain was captured alive,” he said. The underground National Unity Government (NUG) said at the time that 40 junta troops were killed in the battle, but Padoh Saw Taw Nee estimates the toll may have been twice that. 

“At least 70 or 80 of them must have been killed,” he said.

The KNU and its allies have intercepted junta reinforcement columns and convoys sending supplies and ammunition in the eastern and western areas of the Dawna hills in Kawkareik, he said.

In March KNU forces attacked and seized control of the Maw Khee base in Myawaddy, seizing weapons and killing a soldier. The junta’s forces reclaimed the base on April 7, but only after suffering heavy casualties

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