More than 10,000 refugees who fled clashes between junta troops and armed ethnic groups for the jungle along the border of Myanmar’s Southern Shan and Kayah states are at risk of starvation because roads to the area have been shut down by the military, according to aid workers.
The refugees, who are sheltering in the jungles of Southern Shan’s Mobye township and Nan Mae Khon township across the border in Kayah, had been relying on a flow of goods through Mobye, which served as a regional hub until access was cut off at the beginning of the month, a staffer with a local ethnic Karenni aid group told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Food supplies aren’t getting through because of roadblocks,” the aid worker said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We can’t buy food even if we have money and we are facing a severe shortage. Additionally, the weather is very cold, and we need blankets.”
While fighting between the military and members of the Progressive Karenni People’s Movement (PKPF) has died down since the beginning of March, a driver told RFA that junta soldiers are now checking trucks heading to Kayah via Aungban in Southern Shan and only releasing them in exchange for bribes.
“Cars can get through much easier, but still [troops] ask if they are carrying any food or other things,” said the driver, who also declined to be named.
“The trucks in front of us were stopped because they didn’t give [the soldiers] money. The owners later came and offered them money, and everything went smoothly. Usually, we had to pay about 30,000 kyats (U.S. $17) at this checkpoint, but now we must pay 100,000 kyats (U.S. $56).”
RFA was unable to reach junta Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun for comment on the situation in the area.
According to the PKPF, the military carried out 69 airstrikes in Kayah state between Jan. 7 and the end of February, killing a total of 124 civilians. At least 10 religious buildings and 649 homes were damaged over the same period, the group said, adding that clashes killed some 80 junta troops and more than 20 PKPF fighters.
Aid workers told RFA that the intensity of the fighting had driven more than 10,000 people from their homes in 10 villages in and around Mobye township. Most of them are living in makeshift camps with few supplies, they said, and children and the elderly are increasingly at risk because of food shortages.
In the nine months leading to the end of February, the number of war refugees in Kayah state has risen to around 170,000, Karenni aid groups said. Junta troops had killed at least 221 civilians and arrested 220 people in the state since the military seized power in the Feb. 1, 2021, coup.
According to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the military has killed 1,623 civilians and arrested at least 9,533 over the last 13 months, mostly during peaceful anti-junta protests.
— Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.