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Bloodstained Gateways: escalating SAC abuses in northern Burma pave the way for BRI expansion

October 9th, 2023  •  Author:   Kachin Women's Association Thailand  •  4 minute read
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KWAT documentation shows an escalation in attacks and abuses against civilians by the SAC regime’s forces in Kachin State and northern Shan State since mid-2022. Compared to the previous 15 months, our data shows a sharp increase in the number of victims of aerial bombardment and the number of villagers forced to be human shields. SAC troops have also begun mass torching of houses in Kachin State.

There continues to be widespread shelling by SAC troops into populated areas. Between May 2022 and July 2023, KWAT documented thirty such incidents, inflicting 61 civilian casualties, including eleven children. There were also twelve cases of arbitrary shooting of civilians, in nine townships, leaving eight civilians dead and six injured.

During the past fifteen months, 441 people have been arbitrarily arrested by SAC authorities in Kachin State and Muse District of northern Shan State, including several leading Kachin religious figures, most notably former KBC head Reverend Dr. Hka Lam Samson. Most of those arrested were accused of links to resistance groups, including 200 men arrested en masse in Hpakant on April 21, 2023. At least thirteen people were beaten during interrogation, and four men are known to have been shot dead by troops after arrest, while twenty-four have disappeared.

Over 200 of those arrested were forced to be human shields by SAC troops, sometimes with fatal results. One group of 70 villagers, including women and girls, forced to ride with SAC troops in two trucks, came under attack from resistance forces, resulting in one woman killed, and six other women and girls injured.

SAC troops are committing sexual violence increasingly brazenly, as highlighted by two recent cases of gang-rape in Kutkai, committed in the same night right in the village where the troops were stationed.

The abuses have intensified amid escalating SAC offensives to secure transport routes in northern Burma – gateways for establishment of infrastructure projects across Burma under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). With conventional warfare failing against the resistance forces, the regime is increasingly resorting to collective punishment to try and assert control.

For example, the devastating airstrike on the concert in Hpakant on October 23, 2022, which inflicted over 170 casualties, appears to have been direct retaliation for – heavy SAC losses suffered a day earlier during a failed attempt to seize KIA positions on Lung Ja mountain – the highest vantage point in southeast Kachin State, overlooking the Bhamo-Myitkyina transport artery and the Bhamo-Loije trade route, a key link of the planned China-Myanmar Irrawaddy Economic Belt.

The attacks and abuses have fuelled fresh displacement of nearly 14,000 villagers during the past 15 months, even as SAC has been pushing ahead with plans to close down existing camps in northern Burma housing over 107,000 IDPs. Despite ongoing conflict, over 4,000 IDPs have opted to return to their original villages south of Myitkyina in recent years, due to inability to survive on the meagre rations provided by aid agencies in the camps. However, the SAC’s latest operations since July 2023 to secure the Bhamo-Myitkyina road have caused over 1,100 returning IDPs to flee once again.

KWAT calls urgently for increased diplomatic and economic pressure on the SAC regime to stop their escalating attacks on civilians throughout Burma.

KWAT also urges donor countries to step up aid to existing and newly displaced IDPs, prioritizing cross-border channels, and not to support the regime’s IDP camp closure program.

Finally, KWAT urges China to stop pushing ahead with its BRI projects in Burma, as they are fueling conflict and abuses. These projects should be cancelled, and no new investments considered until the military regime is removed and elections held under a new federal democratic constitution, guaranteeing free, prior and informed consent of local communities to any new projects.

Download report in English I Burmese.