The military junta has cut all supply routes to a hilly town in western Myanmar’s Chin state, putting as many as 50,000 refugees from months of fighting under siege with only two weeks supply of food, sources in the embattled region told RFA.
Junta forces have blocked all entrances and exits to Mindat and shut down supply routes to neighboring regions in Chin state, a hotbed of resistance to the Feb. 1 military takeover, where fighting between troops loyal to the junta and local militias from March through May killed scores of regime soldiers and civilians.
“All the roads have been blocked…The authorities stop, arrest or interrogate all the young men entering the town, and confiscate their mobile phones. Nobody dares to enter,” a refugee in Mindat who requested anonymity for security reasons told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The junta’s move to cut off access to Mindat came at a time when Mindat’s transportation situation was already complicated by heavy rains over the past month that had caused mudslides that had made some roads impassible, even by motorcycle.
“The landslides west and south of Mindat cut off the roads there… We will run out of food in two weeks,” a refugee the refugee told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Mindat, with a population of 10,000-15,000 people, including its suburbs, is battling a COVID-19 outbreak, part of a third wave that has overrun the entire country.
“Many goods cannot be purchased here in Mindat anymore, or the prices are up exponentially. No one is selling what we need. The military council’s forces have blocked access roads to the Yaw region, where all our supplies come from,” the refugee said.
Refugees and others living outside of Mindat are too afraid to come into the town for grocery shopping, according to the refugee.
An additional 7,000 refugees have been displaced by fighting since fighting resumed July 21, according to the Chin Defense Force (CDF), a local militia group founded after the military ousted Myanmar’s democratically elected government and seized power February 1.
The CDF is a network of volunteers that formed in April to protect the people of Chin and has enjoyed relative success facing the military—the second largest in Southeast Asia—with slingshots and the same crude flintlock “Tumee” rifles their forefathers used to fight off British colonizers in the 1880s. The CDF said it had killed some 100 junta troops between March and May.
The CDF keeps records of refugees displaced in the conflict, but estimated that in Mindat there are many more than it had the capacity to confirm.
“In the villages there are between 30,000 and 50,000 IDPs, but in our IDP camps, we have around 15,000 to 20,000 on record. This is for the first record taken at the end of May, but fighting resumed in early June,” the information officer of the Mindat CDF told RFA.
“Many IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] fled to nearby Htilin and Pakkoku townships and the Yaw region. Some have fled to the inner parts of Mindat township and the Matupi and Palatwa townships in Chin state. We don’t know the exact numbers of all IDPs, but we have been able to gather info on the IDPs in the vicinity of the fighting, numbering around 6,000 to 7,000,” the information officer said.
The junta has also prevented the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) from delivering aid that would have helped around 5,000 IDPs , but they were allowed to aid 60 households last month. The rest of the aid package, which included truckloads of food, medicines and necessities like tarps, had to be left at a local monastery.
They stockpiled all the aid… at the monastery and won’t allow it to be distributed to nearby areas like the UNHCR wants,” a resident of Mindat told RFA.
“The UNHCR cannot take it back, but they don’t want to leave it here because they don’t want the military forces to steal it. So they put it at the monastery with the caretaker,” said he resident, who declined to be named.
When asked to comment on having to leave the aid at the monastery, Reuben Wende, information officer of UNHCR office in Yangon, told RFA July 23 that authorities should cooperate with efforts to distribute aid in Chin state, but made no direct mention of the incident.
According to the United Nations and aid groups, conflict in Myanmar’s remote border regions has displaced an estimated 230,000 residents since the junta coup.
They join more than 500,000 refugees from decades of conflict between the military and ethnic armies who were already counted as IDPs at the end of 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Norwegian NGO.
Troops loyal to Myanmar’s junta have killed more than 80 ethnic Chins in the country since the military took power during the Feb. 1 coup, including two infants and a 15-year-old rape victim, a Chin watchdog group said last month.
The military killed at least 51 ethnic Chin in Chin state, two in Kachin state, 23 in the Sagaing region, one in Mandalay, one in Yangon, and three in Magwe region, according to a statement issued by the Institute of Chin Affairs (ICA)
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 several local militias.
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