Updated: Myanmar ‘Ceasefire’ Hollow Promise: Homes Burned, Refugee Camps Shelled

Refugees line up at a camp in Thailand. Thae Su Yee said she arrived at the camp after fleeing her home in Lay Kay Kaw, which has recently been the site of intense fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed organizations. (Thae Su Yee)
Refugees line up at a camp in Thailand. Thae Su Yee said she arrived at the camp after fleeing her home in Lay Kay Kaw, which has recently been the site of intense fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed organizations. (Thae Su Yee)
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According to a major Myanmar ethnic political organization, the ceasefire extension announced after Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Naypyidaw has not stopped ongoing military campaigns.

The Karen National Union (KNU) has declared that more than 100 armed clashes have broken out in eastern Myanmar states just this month. The KNU and other ethnic armed organizations are now denouncing the hollowness of a “ceasefire” as stated by the military junta, as hundreds of houses reportedly burned and tens of thousands of residents fled conflict areas as refugees since a military push began mid-December.

Hun Sen visited junta leader Min Aung Hlaing on January 7-8. Cambodia had not long before become the new chair of Asean, which led to criticism that the prime minister was breaking a bloc consensus against the country’s military coup of February last year.

During the visit, Min Aung Hlaing informed Hun Sen the military council would extend until the end of this year its ceasefire with ethnic armed organizations. That agreement had begun October 1 and was initially due to run through February.

However, fighting and human rights violations had not ceased even before the Cambodian prime minister’s visit, groups on the ground said over the past week, and the conflicts have continued after his return to Phnom Penh.

The KNU said the military council had invaded Kayin state’s Lay Kay Kaw town on December 13, two months into the supposed ceasefire, and arrested and killed politicians and activists. More than a dozen people, including a member of parliament and a doctor, were arrested by the military on the morning of December 14.

As a result of the incursion, fighting reignited between the military council and the KNU-affiliated Karen National Liberation Army and People’s Defense Force, and heavy fighting has continued constantly along the state border of Kayin, also known as Karen state. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee to the Thai border due to airstrikes and heavy artillery by the military council, the KNU said.

Thae Su Yee, a Lay Kay Kaw resident, said she had been forced to flee her home.

“When we crossed the Thaung Yin River, which is the Thai-Myanmar border, the Thai authorities helped us come to the other side of the riverbank,” she said with a low voice. “I felt so sorry at that moment because another country’s authorities are helping us, while our country’s army is shooting us.”

Padoh Saw Taw Nee, head of the KNU foreign affairs department, said the military council could not be trusted.

“Now, he, Min Aung Hlaing, talks about a ceasefire with confidence, but I do not believe in it,” he said. “As soon as he announced a ceasefire, he immediately attacked on the ground. The person who is always doing that has no reason to be believed.”

“There are so many human rights violations by the military that it would not be possible to keep track of every single record of their violation over the years. To talk about the recent situation, every day there are bombings in Karen state. In the battle of Lay Kay Kaw, the military bombed and fired artillery during the Christmas period, injuring many civilians,” said Pado Saw Taw Nee.

There have been 119 armed clashes from January 1-15 between the military council and the Border Guard Force and Karen National Liberation Army, according to the KNU.

Padoh Saw Taw Nee said on Tuesday that fighting had only increased since Hun Sen’s visit.

“It can be said that the number has increased,” he said. “We are experiencing this in practice.”

Zaw Min Tun, spokesperson of the military’s Tatmadaw Information Group, said at a press conference last week that the junta believed 2022 was the year for peace.

Ethnic armed organizations were invited to discuss peace, he said. He called groups aligned with the elected civilian political party National League for Democracy — which was ousted in the military coup — “extremists” and “terrorists,” and called on the ethnic groups to cease their association with them.

“We believe that in 2022, we will be able to achieve the peace process to get to the next level that the whole country is hoping for,” Zaw Min Tun said.

The Cambodian government issued a statement on Thursday expressing “serious concerns” over violence in Kayah state, which borders Thailand and Kayin state. The Foreign Ministry said all parties must cease violence for the ceasefire to work and for national reconciliation in Myanmar. An earlier version of the statement characterized the violence as being between the military and “rebel armed forces,” which was quickly changed to “other armed forces” in an updated version of the document.

There has been heavy fighting in the Kayah state capital for the last few days, according to media reports, with reports of air raids and use of ground troops by junta forces.

Thet Swe Win, executive director of non-governmental organization Synergy Social Harmony Organization, said the military always talks about peace while in reality oppressing ethnic groups.

“On the ground, in my experience, refugees are fleeing because of heavy artillery shelling at the border refugee camps where we deliver food every day. Therefore, I do not believe in the word ‘ceasefire’ of the person who is doing these things. The military’s talk of peace is a form of dividing the ethnic armed groups,” he told VOD.

Thet Swe Win said that he has been helping Lay Kay Kaw refugees since the clash began in December, and is repeatedly being told of human rights violations in the conflict.

“There have been offensives into refugee camps and heavy artillery shelling at refugee camps where only citizens stay. Such human rights abuses have taken place not only in Karen [also known as Kayin] state but also in other parts,” he said.

Salai Za Uk Ling, deputy executive director of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), said that serious human rights abuses, including arbitrary killings, arrests and torture, were also ongoing in Chin state.

CHRO said more than 800 homes and 11 churches were burned and destroyed in the state.

“We’ve been forced to flee our homes. They’ve burned down our houses, churches, everything,” he said, adding that the military council was now cutting down internet and communications.

Its talk of a ceasefire was not genuine, Salai Za Uk Ling said.

“They are the ones who are violating the ceasefire in the first place. They came into different parts of the ethnic states that already have a ceasefire in place, and they sent in the army.”

The journalist who reported this story is in Myanmar and has used a pseudonym due to safety concerns.

The story was updated at 9:40 a.m. on January 21 to include a statement by the Cambodian government.

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