Karenni State Under Attack

January 24th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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“The use of villagers as human shields, torture of suspected PDF members, cutting the throats of those arrested, the use of attack helicopters, burning of villages, and massacres are regularly reported and clearly show that the junta are nothing more than a terrorist group.”

The Myanmar military has intensified its attacks in Karenni State in the past two weeks with airstrikes and a de facto siege of the state capital, Loikaw. This adds to the misery it has already been inflicting on the state, such as the massacre of over 35 people, including children, on Christmas Eve – an act condemned by the UN Security Council, which also called for accountability for this atrocity. The humanitarian crisis in Karenni State is reaching tragic levels, and UN agencies and international organizations have thus far proved ineffective at ameliorating their suffering and helping to protect vulnerable populations.

Karenni State, the smallest and one of the least populated states in Myanmar, is currently bearing the brunt of the Myanmar military’s offensives. The state has offered stern resistance to the attempted coup, with the people’s defence forces (PDFs) as well as the Karenni Army, the armed wing of the ethnic armed organization, the Karenni National Progressive Party, inflicting casualties on the Burmese military’s side and not letting them take control of the state. A similar dynamic has been seen in other parts of the country such as Sagaing and Magwe Regions, and Chin, Karen and Kachin States. However, in the last few weeks, Karenni State has faced the most unspeakable violence. The massacre and burning of over 35 people in Hpruso Township on Christmas Eve, including children and two local Save the Children staff was sickening. The subsequent offensives, focusing on the main city of Loikaw, have involved the use of ground troops, heavy artillery, and increasingly, airstrikes from fighter jets. Dozens of civilians have died. Furthermore, the electricity has been cut, meaning that telecommunications usage, information flows, and water supplies are limited. The city is under siege.

The humanitarian crises that was already existing in the state has now reached even more desperate levels. At least half of the population of Loikaw has been displaced, with people fleeing the daily attacks by the junta. Already, over 150,000 people in Karenni and the Karenni-populated areas of southern Shan State had been displaced due to previous junta attacks. It is now estimated that a further 50,000 have been displaced after recent attacks. Some are fleeing outside the state, towards southern Shan State, some are scattered throughout Karenni State, and some near the border with Thailand, who have been prevented from crossing over. The lack of electricity and access to the internet means that coordination of the provision of humanitarian aid is extremely challenging and hospitals have difficulties functioning. Areas surrounding Loikaw have relied on aid deliveries from the city, but with most shops closing, and supplies not able to enter the city due to conflict and junta-imposed blocksages, they are facing acute shortages of necessities. These blockages and the weaponization of humanitarian aid has been a pattern for several years but has become more severe since the attempted coup as a form of collective punishment.

The use of airstrikes and other brutal acts of violence are being seen in other parts of Myanmar also. Sagaing and Magwe Regions, another center of resistance, have seen villages being raided and burnt to ash as the military searches for PDF resistance fighters and tries to instill fear into local populations while also trying to create a divide between the PDFs and civilians. The use of villagers as human shields, torture of suspected PDF members, cutting the throats of those arrested, the use of attack helicopters, burning of villages, and massacres are regularly reported and clearly show that the junta are nothing more than a terrorist group. Airstrikes are also ongoing in Karen State, regularly around Lay Kay Kaw near the Thailand border for over a month, as well as in Mutraw District. A recent airstrike in Mutraw hit a hospital, the second time this year it has been struck, demonstrating how civilians are being targeted.

This increase in the use of airstrikes by the military junta demonstrates two points. First, any semblance of civilian protection has evaporated, as attacks from the air are far more indiscriminate and collectively punish whole wards, villages or in the case of Loikaw, cities. Secondly, it demonstrates that the military junta is losing. It cannot succeed in ground battles to the extent that it would be able to control areas or destroy the resistance forces. Their coup attempt is failing, and they are thus resorting to widespread killing of civilians, destroying their homes and leaving them with no sense of security or safety. Their only weapon is terror.

In light of this, actors in the international community must commit to supporting essential humanitarian aid provision efforts through local community-based and civil society organizations and networks as the junta punishes civilians for resisting their violence and illegitimate attempt to take power. Furthermore, there must not be any equivocation in pointing the finger at who is responsible for atrocities. The statement by the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs after the Christmas Eve massacre in Karenni State, calling on the Myanmar authorities to conduct an investigation was a gross misunderstanding of the situation on the ground and a huge insult to the communities in Karenni State, especially as the military admitted to killing these innocent people and labelled them ‘terrorists.’ Firstly ,the junta are not the ‘authorities’ but are a terrorist organization. Secondly, the military should not be investigating itself to ascertain whether or not it committed the massacre. Rather, international organizations and UN agencies must be supporting all measures of international accountability while taking principled humanitarian action that ensures no legitimacy is bestowed to the junta, and aid reaches those who need it the most. The continuation of atrocities means that the battle for Karenni State, just as the battle for Myanmar as a whole, will be long and bloody. However, the junta is not in control, and its retaliatory measures mean that the people’s revolution will need all the support it can get from international allies. This must involve less pandering to the junta, and more solidarity with, and substantive material and political support to, the Spring Revolution.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

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Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”