The Burmese/Myanmar government has garnered intense international scrutiny with their handling of the Rohingya people. The conflict, which has been going on for decades and has begotten militant and civilian casualties on both sides, is nothing new. However, after some specific attacks on police checkpoints, the Burmese government decided to accelerate their offensives which escalated into what the UN would later call “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
After that specific conflict began, many were not aware that the government has actually been mired in conflict with ethnic minorities all across the outer states since the close of WWII. The state-sponsored media attempted to push stories of the Rohingya militant group attacks as if they were isolated, extremist incidents; this is in direct conflict with the on-the-ground reporting from multiple aid organizations, fact-finding missions and the UN.
Still, their media campaign made it seem as if these conflicts and military campaigns were new and justified, when in fact the violence against civilian ethnic minorities tends to shift from one minority to another across the country, regardless of their origins or religion.
Now the violence has begun to boil back over in the northern Kachin State, on the border of China and just north of Shan State. As seen in the image above, Kachin State lies a far reach away from Rakhine State in the Southwest, where the Rohingya were pushed out of. The vast majority of the Kachin are Christian, some estimates going all the way up to 95% of their total population.
The Burmese military has a long history with its brutal campaigns against civilians — rape is a commonly used weapon of war, killing children under the age of 5, and destroying entire civilian villages are just a few documented examples of the Burma Army’s methods of waging war. They have consistently bought children to use as child soldiers in their fight against these fringe-state minorities. Now they have shifted their gaze once again to the Kachin.
The Kachin’s primary fighting force is called the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Though they used to hold an uncertain cease-fire like the Karen do now, there has been fighting on and off since 2011, with some bouts ending up in thousands of Kachin refugees fleeing their homes. According to the United Nations, 4,000 Kachin have been forced to run with their loved ones into the jungle away from their homes, all in the month of April of this year.
Not only are these situations dangerous due to the obvious violence, but a staggering number of people wind up dead or seriously injured simply due to the harsh realities of being a refugee in the jungle — often times these people are running with whatever they had on their person at the time. This can mean no access to clean water or even the most basic of medical treatments for a very long time, all while trying to take care of children or elderly family members. Something as simple as a cut or diarrhea are common killers for those on the run.
The numbers of refugees often fluctuate, especially at the beginning of a renewed conflict like this. Almost 700,000 Rohingya were driven from their homes in Rakhine State to the neighboring refugee camps in Bangladesh, but those numbers were difficult to track at first. The Kachin conflict is no different in that regard, though these conflicts are nothing new and one can reference back to older ones to get an idea as to what they might look like now. In 2013, there were a reported 100,000 Kachin refugees who had lost 364 villages due to the violence.
As the situation develops, SOFREP will stay apprised with our on-the-ground sources. And though the fighting may increase in Kachin State, it does not negate or change the situation with the Rohingya.
This video, captured by the aid organization the Free Burma Rangers, was taken in 2016 during another conflict between the Kachin and the Burma Army. The Burma Army was criticized then for using air assets on military and civilian targets alike:
Featured images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.