The Myanmar Military Has Strategy To Stomp Out The Opposition

Awng Di, 13, walked over to his aunt’s house in Kachin State about noontime to feed her chickens on May 24, 2021. Heavy artillery crashed through the chicken coop 30 minutes later, killing Awng Di before he could reach the nearby clinic.
Awng Di’s mother told Al Jazeera that her family has never been involved in politics. “We’re just trying to survive,” she added. I now want to curse [military soldiers] every time I see them.
Since April, Momauk township, where Awng Di was from, has been the site of clashes between Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, and the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of an ethnic armed group. More than 11,000 people have been displaced by violence in Momauk and other parts of Kachin State, according to UN estimates.
Since the February 1 military coup, fighting in Momauk and other towns across Myanmar has accelerated as long-standing conflicts between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups in border areas have resumed or intensified, and civil defence forces have emerged in towns without fighting before.
230,000 people have been displaced as a result of the Tatmadaw’s air and ground attacks since the coup. Security forces have also looted and burned homes, blocked aid access and transportation of relief items, cut telecommunications networks, shelled places of refuge, and killed and arrested volunteers delivering humanitarian assistance.
The Tatmadaw has continued to use four cuts, a strategy the military began using against Karen people in the 1960s and has since used against civilian populations of other ethnic minority areas, according to Naw Htoo Htoo, program director of the Karen Human Rights Group.
“[The Tatmadaw] doesn’t use the words ‘four cuts’ anymore, but the strategy is the same as the four cuts that they have used on ethnic people for over 70 years,” said Naw Htoo Htoo.
As a means of starving the support base of armed resistance and turning civilians against resistance groups, this strategy restricts access to weapons, funds, intelligence, and recruits.
Aside from Karen State, the armed forces have also used the strategy in Kachin and Rakhine states, most infamously in northern Rakhine State in 2017, when its ‘clearance operations’ sent hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim Rohingya into Bangladesh.
Kim Jolliffe, an independent researcher focused on security and conflict in Myanmar, says that the four-cuts strategy treats civilians as central resources on the battlefield instead of mere collateral damage.
“They face extreme violence and their livelihoods are destroyed so that armed groups can’t find refuge and civilian support,” he told Al Jazeera.
As a result of the coup, the Tatmadaw appears to have increased its use of four cuts throughout the country, including in areas dominated by ethnic Bamars. After security forces looted homes in the central Magway Region’s Gangaw township in late March, local residents retaliated with hunting rifles. According to local media group Myanmar Now, the Tatmadaw responded with heavy explosives and machine guns, killing four people and sending more than 10,000 fleeing into the forest.
The Magway Region’s Pauk township also witnessed indiscriminate violence on June 15, when more than 200 houses in Kinma village burned to the ground, killing an elderly couple trapped inside. Al Jazeera spoke with two Kinma residents under the condition of anonymity who said they were unaware of any clashes before the fire, but according to Myanmar Now, the incident occurred days after skirmishes between local resistance fighters and plainclothes police and soldiers.
According to one of the villagers, at least nine people in plainclothes entered the village around 11 pm on June 15, 2021, setting homes on fire and shooting at villagers’ cattle, pigs, and buffaloes.
The Tatmadaw has blamed the incident on 40 ‘terrorists’ and said the media are discrediting it by accusing it of torching the village.
The media repeatedly called the military spokesperson but did not receive a response regarding the violence or the “four cuts” strategy.
Than Tun Aung, the pseudonym for one of the two villagers from Kinma interviewed by Al Jazeera, said they are now scattered in nearby villages or staying in makeshift shelters in the jungle where they are running low on food and supplies. “We encounter police and soldiers every now and then on our way to collect aid,” he said. Our alertness keeps us on our toes.
On May 23, the Karenni People’s Defense Forces stormed a police station in the town of Moebye in Shan State’s Pekon township, resulting in a conflict across the region. As civilian defense fighters conducted targeted ambushes with homemade weapons, the Tatmadaw launched what the UN called “indiscriminate attacks”, firing artillery and guns into civilian areas and displacing 100,000 people, many of whom are now living in nearby forests.

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