Protesters make the three-finger salute in front of red paint splashed on the road, representing blood spilled during protests against the coup, in Hpa-an township in Myanmar's Karen state on April 6. (Photo: AFP/Eindu Youths)
More than 20,000 people in Myanmar’s Karen state have been forced to flee their homes as the military has continued its airstrikes and ground attacks since late March.
The newly displaced people are in dire need of food and are unable to tend their crops or take care of their animals, according to Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian group that has for many years provided health care to Karen villagers. They are surviving on emergency rations they have hidden.
The group said in a report on April 5 that 14 Karen people have been killed and more than 40 wounded in airstrikes.
“The biggest result of these airstrikes has been over 20,000 people hiding in the jungle, afraid to stay in their homes and be the next target, unable to go out to their fields,” it said.
Schools, clinics, homes and mining operations have been hit by the military’s airstrikes. The military has also been reinforcing a ground offensive into Karen territory that forced villagers to flee their homes.
The military, known as the Tatmadaw, announced a ceasefire with ethnic armed groups on April 1 but conducted multiple airstrikes in Papun district of Karen state the same day, according to Free Burma Rangers.
“The situation now seems, from our perspective, to be an all-out war to the finish,” said David Eubank, the group’s founder.
“Unless there is a miracle, the Burma Army will not hold back in their attempt to crush the Karen and any other ethnic group that stands against them, just as they have not held back from killing their own Burman people in the cities and plains of Burma.”
The Tatmadaw’s latest offensive against Karen rebels by using fighter jets to bomb villages began on March 27 after the Karen National Liberation Army attacked a Tatmadaw camp and killed 10 soldiers.
They were the first airstrikes in 20 years in Karen state, which has been relatively peaceful since a nationwide ceasefire agreement in October 2015.
More than 3,840 people in Karen state have crossed the border to Thailand since March 27 due to fears of further hostilities. Most are believed to have returned to Myanmar, with Thai authorities saying that 1,167 remained in Thailand as of April 1, according to a UN report on April 6.
Myanmar’s junta has been battling rebels in some ethnic areas including Karen and Kachin states while stepping up its deadly crackdown against peaceful protesters following the Feb. 1 coup.
The Karen National Union and the Kachin Independence Army, who have supported solidarity with the anti-coup movement, are engaged in a conflict with the Tatmadaw.
Fighting is still raging in Christian stronghold Kachin state and hundreds of people have been displaced and taken refuge at Christian churches.
Myanmar’s outspoken Cardinal Charles Bo said the brutal violence against the youth and civilians might provoke great anger and a desire for civil war.
“Army, armed groups and protesters: avoid all talk of civil war as its consequence is immense suffering to ordinary people,” he tweeted on April 6.
Some 581 people including youths and children have been killed since the coup, according to a rights group that monitors casualties and arrests.
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