Regime airstrikes have ‘displaced 90% of rural population’ in embattled Karen district 

Airstrikes by the coup regime in Karen State’s Mutraw district have displaced 90% of the entire rural population in recent months and sparked a “humanitarian crisis”, a local advocacy group has said. 

The Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN) said the airstrikes, which started in the southeastern state in late March for the first time in 25 years, have killed dozens and forced 70,000 people to flee their homes.  

A report by the network, titled Terror from the Skies and published on Monday, also documented extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and looting by soldiers in the district, which is known in Burmese as Hpapun.

The strikes began on March 27 after the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) seized the Thee Mu Hta military outpost, which the regime had been using as a base from which to launch artillery attacks that displaced hundreds of villagers. 

The group’s political wing, the Karen National Union (KNU), vocally opposed the new junta after the February 1 coup. 

The authors said there was little sign of respite for civilians as the military continued its attacks.  

“The regime’s offensive in Mutraw appears set to intensify, with ongoing troop reinforcement and frequent flyovers of surveillance aircraft and drones,” the report said. “KPSN is gravely concerned that this will fuel further displacement and worsen the humanitarian crisis.”

Some 5,500 Karen refugees fled to Thailand from the air attacks that began in late March, the report said, but were forced back across the border by Thai authorities. Another 3,000 fled across the border late last month but were again forced back by Thailand. 

In mid April soldiers from Light Infantry Battalions 704 and 405 shot and killed three civilians, the report said. They included Saw Pah Mae Pa, 37, from Dwelo township. He was riding a motorcycle to bring money to his in-laws when he was shot. 

“The troops took all his money and buried him with his motorcycle,” the report said. 

On April 13, soldiers stationed in the town of Hpapun travelled to Baw Hta village and rounded up all of the residents there. They warned them against helping the KNLA, searched their houses and seized their phones to check the contents. 

They then arrested a 57-year-old man and his daughter, who is in eighth grade. “The father was released at 3pm, but his daughter was taken to the army camp and kept for the night, before being released,” the report said. 

The coup regime has blamed the KNU’s 5th Brigade for instigating the recent violence. But Monday’s report detailed a long history of the Myanmar military breaching the terms of ceasefire agreements and expanding into KNU controlled territory. 

“The latest attacks are simply an escalation of ongoing operations over decades to seize this strategic border region,” the report said. “In 1994 there were only 25 Burma Army camps in Mutraw, but following repeated offensives and scorched earth operations, by the time the KNU signed a ceasefire in 2012, this number had increased to 65.” 

It added: “In violation of ceasefire agreements, the Burma Army continued expansion into Mutraw, carrying out heavy shelling of civilian areas to push through access routes, and by 2020 there were over 80 camps in the district.”


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