Six Vulnerable Refugees Die in Jungle After Fleeing Conflict in Myanmar’s Chin State

A pregnant woman, two infants and three elderly refugees died from lack of medical access, sources say.
Share on WhatsApp
Share on WhatsApp
Six Vulnerable Refugees Die in Jungle After Fleeing Conflict in Myanmar’s Chin State Villagers rest in makeshift tents after who fleeing fighting in Chin state's Thantlang township, June 11, 2021.

At least six civilians displaced by conflict in Chin state—a pregnant woman, two infants, and three elderly people—have died from lack of access to medical care since fighting erupted between Myanmar’s military and the Chinland Defense Force (CDF) militia two months ago, sources said Thursday.

The deaths come as the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated 230,000 people have been displaced by fighting and violence this year and efforts to assist them is being hampered by armed clashes and insecurity.

More than 20,000 people were sheltering at 100 displacement areas in Chin state bordering India, while 177,000 people were displaced in Kayah state bordering Thailand, according to OCHA.

A refugee from the war-torn township of Mindat, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the six had died in the jungle while fleeing a junta offensive in the area.

“At least six people have died in the jungle due to lack of medicine,” the source said, adding that he was unsure of their names.

“The babies were just a few days old. There are old people [who died]. Some fell from the narrow mountain roads while escaping the fighting. Others died because they could not secure their usual medicine.”

Clashes between the military and the CDF have been raging in the remote township of southern Chin state in Myanmar’s northwest since April 26 and have forced more than 30,000 people to flee to safety, according to aid groups.

A five-point bilateral agreement was reached between the two sides Wednesday to ban armed surveillance and the targeting of civilians in Mindat, end the disruption of government services, cease the use of intimidation or coercion to force Civil Disobedience Movement participants protesting the military’s Feb. 1 coup d’état into returning to work, and lift a blockade of the Kyauktaw-Mindat-Matupi Road to allow the delivery of relief.

A member of the CDF, who also declined to be named, said his group agreed to a ceasefire to alleviate the suffering of those in need of food and medicine, while the military “does not care about the plight of people fleeing the war.”

“I don’t think they did it to show compassion to the people,” he said, adding that the military’s decision to enter the agreement likely stemmed from heavy losses it sustained in nearby Chaungzon township.

“They suffered many casualties around Chaungzon and sent in around 60 more men as reinforcements. I don't know whether they came in to quell riots in other areas or to pressure us, but I’m sure they didn’t call for a ceasefire because they care about the people.”

A CDF spokesman said military troops in the region had been told not to disturb residents or make arrests, adding that he was “monitoring the situation.”

Some of the refugees who were hiding in the jungle to avoid the conflict began returning home in the days leading up to the agreement, relief workers told RFA.

However, they said, access to food and medicine remains a challenge, and many refugees are suffering from illnesses, including seasonal flu and diarrhea, and supplies are desperately needed.

“[The military] questioned people who returned to town and some were arrested,” the worker said, adding that the situation remains tenuous.

“It is still unclear at this time what they will do to people after this. There are no guarantees. And there still is a need for food and medicine for the refugees.”

When transporting supplies for refugees, he said, trucks are required to submit to inspections at multiple checkpoints throughout the area.

A family takes refuge in a jungle area in Demoso, Kayah state, after fleeing from fighting between the Myanmar military and members of the People's Defence Force (PDF), June 3, 2021. STR / AFP
A family takes refuge in a jungle area in Demoso, Kayah state, after fleeing from fighting between the Myanmar military and members of the People's Defence Force (PDF), June 3, 2021. STR / AFP
Ordering refugees home

On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military staged a coup, seizing power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), rejecting its landslide victory in November 2020 general elections as the result of voter fraud. The junta has provided no evidence to back up its claims and citizens from all walks of life have protested the takeover.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), the military has killed at least 880 people, while some 5,104 people have been detained, charged, or sentenced in the five months since the coup.

Amid nationwide turmoil, the military has stepped up offensives in remote parts of the country of 54 million that have led to fierce battles with a plethora of People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias formed to protect residents from troops loyal to the junta. Ethnic armies in other parts of the nation have used the instability to encroach on one another’s territory.

Sources in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state told RFA Thursday that the military has been ordering refugees from Demoso township—where fighting between junta troops and a branch of the People’s Defense Force (PDF) militia broke out on May 20—to return home, but that most have relocated to other areas because they fear for their safety.

One person living in a makeshift camp outside of the township told RFA that soldiers had come to the area and told refugees to return to Demoso and that they would only be given protection if they agreed to do so.

“Some villagers moved elsewhere instead of going back,” he said, adding that the others had no plan to return any time soon.

“Even if we want to return, where would we stay? All our houses have been destroyed, totally or in part. [Troops] are still stationed in the villages. They are even stationed in the refugee camp’s medical center and are forcing people in the camps to cook for them.”

Other sources said that a brave few have returned to villages near to the suburbs of Demoso, but only temporarily because of the need to cultivate their fields, noting that even the state capital Loikaw remains dangerous.

Military troops and police go on patrol at Kayah state, Myanmar, May 23, 2021. AP Photo
Military troops and police go on patrol at Kayah state, Myanmar, May 23, 2021. AP Photo
Few willing to return

At least 100,000 people have been displaced throughout Kayah state since fighting broke out more than a month ago in Demoso. They account for the lion’s share of the more than a quarter million civilians in seven regions of Myanmar that the United Nations estimates have fled clashes between the military and militias or conflict between ethnic armies in the four months since the junta overthrew the country’s democratically elected government.

The 226,000 displaced in 2021 join more 500,000 refugees from decades of conflict between the government military and ethnic armies who were already counted as internally displaced persons at the end of 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Norwegian NGO.

Palan, a social worker based in Demoso, told RFA that only around less than one-third of the 100,000 displaced in Kayah state have gone home, while others refuse because they fear the military or have no dwelling to return to.

“I think about 30,000 have returned at present,” he said.

“The main problem is that most of them are now homeless. Almost all the residents of Demoso and about 50 percent of those from Loikaw have no homes now. There are still a lot of soldiers in the villages, as well as in Ngwedaung and Demoso [townships]. That’s why it isn’t easy to go back.”

Bringing rice to Kayah state from neighboring Thailand to help feed the displaced is also nearly impossible because the military has blocked the supply routes, Palan added.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.