UN says 230,000 displaced by Myanmar fighting

Myanmar has been in crisis since a February 1 coup overthrew elected government, prompting nationwide anger.

A woman displaced by fighting in eastern Myanmar feeds a baby at a forest camp in Kayah State [File: Reuters]

An estimated 230,000 people have been displaced by violence and fighting in Myanmar this year and are in need of assistance, the United Nations humanitarian agency has said.

Myanmar has been in crisis since army chief Min Aung Hlaing led a coup against the elected government on February, prompting nationwide protests, a mass civilian disobedience movement and, more recently the formation of civilian armies.

“Displaced people as well as communities in affected areas are in urgent need of a wide range of humanitarian assistance, including food and basic household materials, shelter, access to healthcare, water and sanitation, as well as various protection services, including psychosocial support,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its report on Thursday.

The UN body said relief operations were ongoing but were being hindered by armed clashes, violence and insecurity in the country.

It said 177,000 people had been displaced in Karen state bordering Thailand – 103,000 in the past month – while more than 20,000 people were sheltering at 100 displacement areas after fighting between People’s Defence Forces and the army in Chin State bordering India.

Thousands of people also fled fighting in northern Kachin and Shan States, regions where established ethnic minority armies have long been fighting the military.

Villagers displaced by fighting in eastern Myanmar cross a river in Kayah State [File: Reuters]

The Karen National Union (KNU), one of Myanmar’s leading ethnic minority armed groups, expressed concern about the loss of civilian lives, escalating violence and excessive use of force by the military all across Myanmar.

“The KNU will continue to fight against military dictatorship and provide as much protection as possible to people and unarmed civilians,” it said in a statement.

Anti-coup protests took place in Kachin State, Dawei, Sagaing Region and the commercial capital Yangon on Thursday, with demonstrators carrying banners and making the three-finger gesture of defiance.

Some showed support for those resisting military rule in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-biggest city, where a firefight took place between the army and a newly formed rebel group on Tuesday, the first sign of armed clashes in a big urban centre since the coup.

Near-daily protests have rocked Myanmar since the coup. A mass uprising has been met with a brutal military crackdown that has killed at least 877 civilians, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group, which the military regime has declared an illegal organisation.

A diplomatic effort by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to end the crisis and initiate dialogue has stalled and the generals say they will stick to their plan of restoring order and holding elections in two years.

At a meeting of senior officials of the East Asian Summit, which includes ASEAN, the United States on Thursday urged the group “to take immediate action to hold the Burmese regime accountable to the ASEAN five-point consensus“.  Senior Bureau Official for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kin Moy also called for joint action to press the Burmese military to end the violence, release those unjustly detained, and restore Burma to the path of democracy.

A UN resolution passed last week condemned the coup and demanded the military “immediately stop all violence against peaceful demonstrators”, who continue to take to the streets every day.

However, the UN General Assembly resolution stopped short of calling for a global arms embargo against Myanmar’s military.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters