By JERRY HARMER, Associated Press
BANGKOK (AP) — As Russia’s war in Ukraine dominates global attention, Myanmar’s military is targeting civilians in air and ground attacks on a scale not seen in the country since World War II, a worker says. longtime humanitarian who spent nearly three months in a combat zone in the Southeast Asian nation.
David Eubank, director of the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian aid organization, told The Associated Press that military jets and helicopters launch frequent attacks in areas of eastern Myanmar where he and his volunteers operate, providing medical and food aid to civilians caught up in the conflict.
Ground forces are also firing artillery – indiscriminately, he said – forcing thousands to flee their homes.
The video shot by members of his group includes rare footage of repeated airstrikes by Myanmar military jets in Kayah State – also known as Karenni State – causing a number of civilian deaths .
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A New York-based Human Rights Watch analyst said the airstrikes were “war crimes”.
Myanmar’s military seized power last year, toppling the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. After security forces violently suppressed large peaceful street protests opposing the takeover, thousands of ordinary people formed militia units, dubbed the People’s Defense Forces, to fight back.
Many are loosely allied with well-established ethnic minority armed groups – such as the Karenni, Karen and Kachin – who have been fighting the central government for more than half a century, seeking greater autonomy in the border regions.
Despite an overwhelming superiority in numbers and armament, the army failed to crush this popular resistance movement. The army has now stepped up its attacks, taking advantage of dry summer conditions.
Eubank described the fighting he had seen as possibly the worst in Myanmar since World War II, when the country was a British colony still known as Burma and largely occupied by the Japanese.
There had been serious but sporadic fighting in Kachin state in northern Myanmar for a few years, he said, “but what I saw in Karenni I had never seen in Burma before”.
“The airstrikes, not like one or two a day like they do in Karen State, but like two MiGs back to back, those Yak fighters, it was one after the other,” Eubank said. . “Hind helicopter gunships, those Russian planes, and then just brought in hundreds of 120mm mortar rounds. Just boom, boom, boom, boom.
Russia is a major supplier of arms to the Myanmar military, ensuring its supply even though many other countries have maintained an embargo since the military takeover to promote peace and a return to rule democratic.
Eubank knows what he is talking about. He was an officer in the US Army’s Special Forces and Rangers before he and some ethnic minority leaders in Myanmar founded the faith-based organization Free Burma Rangers in 1997. Two of its members were killed in Kayah state since the end of February: one during an airstrike, the other in a mortar barrage.
Drone footage shot by the group shows the impact of the army’s offensive on Karenni settlements, with burning buildings and thick smoke drifting in the sky. In a February 24 report in the state-run Myanma Alinn Daily, the army admitted using airstrikes and heavy artillery to eliminate what it called “terror groups” near the capital. of the State, Loikaw.
As casualties mount, people must scramble for their lives, cowering in crude underground shelters topped with bamboo. A nighttime airstrike on February 23 that struck northwest of Loikaw left two villagers dead, three injured and several buildings destroyed.
“These are war crimes,” Manny Maung, Myanmar researcher for Human Rights Watch, told AP. “These attacks by the military against civilians, civilian buildings, killing civilians, public buildings like religious buildings, yes, these are nothing less than war crimes that are happening right now in this particular area. and that’s because they indiscriminately target civilians.”
In addition to Kayah, the army is now hitting hard in Sagaing in central northern Myanmar, burning villages and engaging heavily with poorly armed militias.
The UN refugee agency says 52,000 people across the country fled their homes in the last week of February. He puts the total number of internally displaced people since the military coup at just over half a million. Casualty figures are unclear, given the government’s control of information and the remoteness of war zones.
More than 1,670 civilians have been killed by security forces since the military took over in February last year, according to the Political Prisoners Assistance Association, an advocacy group that monitors arrests and deaths. But his tallies come mostly from cities in Myanmar and are generally lacking in combat casualties in the countryside.
“In the midst of all this we have Ukraine, which is a tragedy, and I am truly grateful for the help that the world has galvanized behind Ukraine,” Eubank said. “But the Karenni people ask me ‘Aren’t we counting? … And of course the Ukrainian people need help. But so do we. Why? Why isn’t anyone helping us?’
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