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Myanmar: Concerns for Christians following military coup

March 2021

IDP families in the jungle
see image info

Thousands of Karen Christian villagers have been forced to flee military bombardment in Myanmar ahead of the coup which took place in February.

Increased military action over January escalated into a full coup on February 1, when the Myanmar leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was ousted from power.

The Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a multi-ethnic humanitarian service movement working in Myanmar as well as other countries, has been reporting on events.

The shelling of the Papun and Nyaunglebin meant thousands of villagers from the ethnically Christian Karen people have become displaced, and have been seeking shelter in largely inhospitable mountainous jungle.

FBR had reported that since December 2020 the military have increased ceasefire violations in Karen State, attacking villages with shells, mortars, and grenade launchers in order to clear land for a programme of building new roads and military installations, which began in 2018.

But now the military have retaken Myanmar – just three months after Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party won in a landslide election – and fears are growing over the fate of the country.

Myanmar (Burma) has been locked into civil war conflicts and unrest for the better part of 60 years, and ethnic minority peoples such as Christians and the mainly Muslim Rohingya have borne the brunt of brutal state action.

According to FBR reports, ‘Rangers met with the Keh Der village leader, who the night before held a funeral for his elderly father, the mortars started booming in the distance.

‘The Burma army was a kilometre away shooting mortars, machine guns, grenade launchers, and rifles.

The village leader told FBR, ‘At night we sleep in the jungle, but we came back last night to have a funeral and bury my father.’

He continued, ‘We try to come back to feed our animals and take care of our crops during the day if there is no shelling.’

After Suu Kyi was detained by the military, US President Joe Biden raised the threat of new sanctions, with the United Nations and the UK also condemning the coup.

The military has declared a one-year state of emergency, attempting to ban the internet, enforce a curfew, and make gatherings illegal during this time.

However, during February protesters took to the streets of the capital as international condemnation escalated.

A BBC report said the army alleges the November 2020 election win by Ms Suu Kyi’s party was marred by fraud, and has already announced replacements for a number of ministers.

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