Myanmar military steps up attacks on ethnic groups Myanmar military steps up attacks on ethnic groups

Myanmar military steps up attacks on ethnic groups

    NHK World
    NHK World
    Videos and images from northwestern Myanmar are painting a devastating picture of the relentless crackdown against civilian militia and ethnic armed groups by the military junta that seized power just over a year ago. Forensic analysis is helping people outside the country understand the plight of villagers who are the targets of gunfire and whose homes have been set ablaze.

    The town of Thantlang in Chin State – home to a mostly Christian population -- has been attacked at least 25 times since September 2021. More than half of its structures, including houses and churches, have been destroyed, many of them burned to the ground.

    Thantlang in Chin State has been devastated by repeated attacks.

    A couple from Myanmar who live in Japan are documenting the atrocities in Thantlang. Since last year's coup, Win Kyaw and Mathida have been studying videos and photos uploaded to social media and reporting their findings to the United Nations.

    Win Kyaw and Mathida analyze social media posts.

    The pair, both from the ethnic Bamar majority, have been running into difficulties understanding the Chin language spoken in the videos, so they sought help from other Myanmar nationals in Japan who come from the affected region.

    Working together

    Ethnic minorities, including the Chin people, have long suffered at the hands of the military. Since the coup, they have faced even greater oppression.

    Win Kyaw and Mathida learn about the current situation in ethnic states from fellow Bamars who fled there after they were targeted by the military for taking part in peaceful protests.

    Bamar and other ethnic groups in Myanmar are becoming more united as they oppose military rule: "We may be from different ethnicities, but we're all citizens of Myanmar, so we're all the same," says Win Kyaw. "We must offer our support."

    One Chin woman who is helping the couple says her view of the Bamar majority is gradually changing. She used to feel they looked down on people from her background, but now she sees Bamars fighting by their side.

    Win Kyaw and Mathida are helped by Chin people in Japan.

    In one of the videos that shows a fire in Thantlang, Win Kyaw and Mathida learned that the military were shooting at people who tried to extinguish the flames.

    Watch Video 00:17

    Deliberate strategy

    Win Kyaw is also in direct contact with some civilian militias. The leader of the Chinland Defense Force or CDF, stationed in Thantlang, is helping him understand the military's strategy.

    In August last year, soldiers were deployed to two positions on the outskirts of the town. After intense fighting, the CDF drove them back. The defeated soldiers lit fires in retaliation.

    "The military lost soldiers, so they started fires to get revenge," says the CDF leader. "They torched one or two buildings for every shot we fired."

    After the fire on September 18, many people fled Thantlang. The town has been repeatedly targeted ever since.

    Houses in Thantlang were torched on September 18.

    NHK collaborated with the non-profit research group Myanmar Witness to uncover how and why the military targeted Thantlang. Images obtained via social media show that the military dispatched large numbers of vehicles to Chin State in October, attacking and burning villages along the way as the convoy moved towards Thantlang.

    A convoy of military vehicles and trucks moved towards Thantlang in October.

    An army defector with knowledge of the region explained the tactics: "The military attacked Thantlang with the aim of pushing the CDF back to the Indian border. It made life difficult for residents so they wouldn't support the CDF, and kept them at bay by ensuring the military outnumbered the CDF by three to one."

    Chin people taking refuge in Mizoram, India.

    Many residents fled from Chin State across the border to Mizoram and Manipul in India. According to the Chin Human Rights Organization, 40,000 of them have sought refuge there as of January 2022.

    Widespread violence

    People in other parts of Myanmar are also under attack. The Sagaing Region, adjacent to Chin State, faces relentless arson raids. And Kayah State in the east is being targeted in air strikes. According to the UN, more than half a million civilians across the country have been forced to leave their homes and internally displaced as of February 2022.

    As their investigations continue, Win Kyaw and Mathida are raising awareness and support for their compatriots being affected by the turmoil. They believe that one key to ending the military oppression is for Bamars like themselves to work in solidarity with the country's long-suffering ethnic minorities.

    Watch Video 10:18