Civilian casualties rise in Myanmar’s civil war as resistance forces tighten noose around military

Civilian casualties rise in Myanmar’s civil war as resistance forces tighten noose around military
Myanmar’s borderlands are home to a plethora of ethnic armed groups, many of whom have battled the military since independence from Britain in 1948. Above, soldiers from the Karen National Liberation Army patrol next to an area destroyed by Myanmar’s airstrike in Myawaddy, the Thailand-Myanmar border town, on April 15, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 May 2024
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Civilian casualties rise in Myanmar’s civil war as resistance forces tighten noose around military

Civilian casualties rise in Myanmar’s civil war as resistance forces tighten noose around military
  • An estimated one-third of those displaced are children, according to the UN statement

BANGKOK: Six months into an offensive against Myanmar ‘s military government, opposition forces have made massive gains, but civilian casualties are rising sharply as regime troops increasingly turn toward scorched-earth tactics in the Southeast Asian country’s bitter civil war.
There is pressure on all fronts from powerful militias drawn from Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups and newer resistance forces. Troops are retaliating with air, naval and artillery strikes on hospitals and other facilities where the opposition could be sheltered or aided.
“When the mass of people rise up against them, I think it terrifies them,” said Dave Eubank, a former US Special Forces soldier who founded the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian aid organization that has provided assistance to both combatants and civilians in Myanmar since the 1990s.
“They know that hospitals, churches, schools and monasteries are important places for human care, and gathering, and symbols — and they hammer them,” said Eubank. “That’s new.”
Military forces now control less than half the country, but are holding on tenaciously to much of central Myanmar including the capital, Naypyidaw — recently targeted by drone attacks — and largest city, Yangon, and is far better armed than the resistance forces, with support from Russia and China.
“People have been saying that the regime was on the brink of collapse since two weeks after the coup,” in February 2021, said Morgan Michaels, an analyst with the International Institute of Strategic Studies who runs its Myanmar Conflict Map project.
“On the other hand, obviously the regime is weaker than it’s ever been.... so there’s no doubt that it’s in serious, serious trouble,” he said.
Thet Swe, a spokesman for the military government, denied that troops were targeting buildings and areas where civilians were sheltering, blaming their destruction instead on the opposition forces, without citing evidence.
“The military never harmed hospitals, churches and civilians in our country,” he told The Associated Press in an email. “They did not use that strategy and are fighting the rebels only for the sovereignty of our country.”
As the fighting has moved into more populated areas, about 1 million people have been forced to flee their homes since the start of the offensive in October, contributing to the more than 3 million internally displaced people in the country of some 56 million, according to the UN’s humanitarian aid agency.
With the collapse of its health care system and food supplies dwindling, 18.6 million people are in need, up 1 million from a year ago, including 6 million children, the agency said.
How it began
Opposition in Myanmar, also known as Burma, had been growing since the army seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, but it gained new momentum in October when major militias known collectively as the Three Brotherhood Alliance launched a joint offensive.
Together, the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army — among the most powerful militias formed by Myanmar’s ethnic minorities — made quick advances.
As they captured huge swaths of territory largely in the north and northeast, including economically important border crossings with China and several major military bases, other ethnic armed groups sensed momentum and joined the fighting.
At the same time, People’s Defense Forces — armed resistance groups that support the shadow National Unity Government, which views itself as Myanmar’s legitimate administration — have been increasing in number and launching their own attacks, often supported and trained by the ethnic armed militias.
Both sides claim they have inflicted heavy tolls. And the military government under Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has acknowledged it is under pressure, recently reintroducing conscription to increase its ranks.
That has pushed some young people into the resistance. Many more have fled to rural areas or neighboring countries to avoid fighting.
With the violence across its border, China helped broker a ceasefire in Myanmar’s north in January with the Three Brotherhood Alliance. But the alliance’s Arakan Army continues to fight in its home Rakhine state in the west and has made significant gains, while PDFs and other ethnic armed groups continue their own attacks elsewhere.
The latest fighting
The fiercest fighting in recent weeks has been in the southeast, where the main ethnic Karen fighting force, the Karen National Liberation Army, claimed in early April to have seized all the military bases in Myawaddy, the main town on the border with Thailand in Kayin state, also known as Karen state.
One army battalion clung to a position beside one of Myawaddy’s two bridges, assisted by the Border Guard Force, a rival Karen group that had been in charge of border area security for years, conducting lucrative business by providing protection to area casino resorts with links to organized crime.
The force, which declared itself neutral in January, now controls the town with military government administrators still in place, highlighting how some militia groups still prioritize their own interests.
“This is not a black and white situation. This is not the regime reconquering and reconsolidating control,” Michaels said of the fighting in the area. “This is the regime hanging on, keeping a foothold by the razor’s edge.”
Meanwhile, the military has pushed KNLA and People’s Defense Forces out of Kawkareik, a strategically important town along the road that connects Myawaddy with the rest of the country.
Thousands of civilians have fled Myawaddy and Kawkareik. But many civilians haven’t managed to escape.
At least 1,015 civilian deaths have been documented from Nov. 1 through May 1, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog group that tracks political arrests, attacks and casualties. It says 4,962 civilians have been killed overall since the military took power three years ago.
The watchdog blamed the deaths on the military’s increasing use of scorched-earth tactics and fighting moving into more populated areas.
“The military has increasingly lost areas of control in recent months, which has only increased their use of this strategy, responding with airstrikes, shelling and so on in civilian areas,” the AAPP said in an email.
The group added that the number of civilian deaths in the recent months of fighting is likely double what it reported, if not more, but that it can’t document the numbers due to the intensification of the conflict.
Kyaw Zaw, a spokesperson for the shadow National Unity Government, said the military had destroyed 343 hospitals and clinics since it took power, and that those attacks had accelerated in the last two months, though he didn’t have specific details.
Eubank, with the Free Burma Rangers, said he and his teams operating near the front lines have witnessed the military, known as the Tatmadaw, fighting with a ” speed and force and a viciousness that we’ve never seen.”
But in fighting a common enemy, the resistance is showing growing unity, he said.
“The Burma army is still stronger than any of these resistance groups, and if they want to bring a division or two to bear, they will win the battle, but they’re not stronger than everybody else together,” he said.
What comes next
Whether that unity will continue if the regime falls, and if the disparate resistance forces can agree on a common path ahead for Myanmar, is an open question, Michaels said.
“On one hand, Myanmar is not Syria — there is common cause in fighting the regime,” Michaels said. “But at the same time, as the regime has receded from some areas, there are at least indicators of potential future conflicts between groups.”
He noted an incident in northern Shan state last month in which troops from two members of the Three Brotherhood Alliance — the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army — traded fire over a territorial dispute. One person was injured.
The groups quickly agreed to stand down, but the incident illustrates that territorial tension is real, Michaels said.
An opposition politician still inside the country, speaking on condition of anonymity for his own safety, said Myanmar’s people have a common desire for peace and stability, but the various factions still pursue their own interests.
“It is hard to predict what is ahead, and they still don’t have a single political direction or goal. I think there is quite a problem in this situation,” he said.
“Myanmar is now at a crossroads.”


District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts

District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts
Updated 12 July 2024
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District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts

District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts
  • The Hague District Court’s judges agreed on Friday but stressed February’s judgment “said nothing about the route that parts take via other countries for the production of the F-35”

THE HAGUE: Dutch judges on Friday slapped down an urgent request by a trio of rights groups to penalize the Netherlands for not respecting a ban on supplying F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel.
In a landmark verdict in February, an appeals court ordered the Netherlands to stop delivering parts for fighter jets used by Israel in its offensive in the Gaza Strip.
But the rights groups went back to court in June, saying that the ban has not prevented parts ending up in Israeli planes.
Their lawyers accused the Dutch government of continuing “to deliver (parts) to other countries, including the US.”
The three groups asked The Hague District Court in an urgent request to impose a €50,000 per day fine on the state for not respecting the verdict.
Their lawyers said F-35 parts exported by the Netherlands continued to reach Israel via other routes, including the so-called “Global Spares Pool” — a joint stock of spare parts maintained by countries that operate the F-35.
The Hague District Court’s judges agreed on Friday but stressed February’s judgment “said nothing about the route that parts take via other countries for the production of the F-35.”
The judges said the February judgment had a “more limited scope” than the rights group’s current urgent request.
“It has not been demonstrated that the state is not complying with the ban or does not intend to continue to comply,” the judges said.
“Therefore, there is no penalty for a violation,” the judges said.
In its verdict in February, appeals judges found that there was a “clear risk” the planes would be involved in breaking international humanitarian law.
The Dutch government then acknowledged it could not prevent parts shipped to the US from eventually ending up in Israeli F-35s.
But its lawyers said it did not believe the Netherlands had to restrict exports of F-35 parts to countries other than Israel.
The Dutch government added that it would implement the February verdict but announced that it would appeal to the Supreme Court.

 


Teenage migrant in Spain’s Canaries sleeping rough after coming of age

Teenage migrant in Spain’s Canaries sleeping rough after coming of age
Updated 12 July 2024
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Teenage migrant in Spain’s Canaries sleeping rough after coming of age

Teenage migrant in Spain’s Canaries sleeping rough after coming of age
  • Around 19,000 migrants, mainly from West Africa, arrived on the islands in the first six months of 2024, a 167 percent increase from the same period a year earlier, according to government figures

MADRID: When Abdellatif Bouhlal landed on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria after surviving the perilous sea journey from Morocco on a rickety dinghy, he was alone and just 15 years old.
Having been picked up at sea, Bouhlal spent three years in a reception center for unaccompanied minors, but when he came of age, he had to leave and find his shelter.
With the authorities slow to process the paperwork he needs as a foreigner to be able to work in Spain, he was forced to sleep rough and beg for money, he said.
“On the same day I turned 18, they dumped me out on the streets like a dog,” he said from a makeshift tent on El Cabron beach in the town of Arinaga.
Bouhlal’s story is shared by thousands of young migrants who attempt the perilous journey on the deadly Atlantic route, only to find a host country that struggles to cope with an unprecedented number of arrivals and integrate them into the domestic jobs market.
Around 19,000 migrants, mainly from West Africa, arrived on the islands in the first six months of 2024, a 167 percent increase from the same period a year earlier, according to government figures.
Disagreements on migration policy have driven a wedge between the conservative People’s Party, or PP, and the far-right Vox, which ruled five Spanish regions together until Thursday when the PP backed a plan by Spain’s central Socialist-run government to move around 400 under-18 migrants from the Canary Islands to the mainland.
Bouhlal, born in the north-central Moroccan city of Beni Mellal, said he had left his country because he saw no future.
His scant belongings include a bare mattress, a cardboard box with second-hand clothes, and a few candles.
On windy nights, he covers his head with a blanket to protect his eyes from the sand being blown around.
Bouhlal said that when he begs for money, he faces the dilemma of spending it on food or the bus fare to the island’s capital, Las Palmas, for appointments with officials handling his residency case.
He has not seen his mother in 3 1/2 years.
A tearful Bouhlal, who does not have a phone, said he closes his eyes every night and pictures having dinner with her and his little sister. “Not talking to her really hurts,” he said.

 


Russian assassination plots against those supporting Ukraine uncovered in Europe, official says

Russian assassination plots against those supporting Ukraine uncovered in Europe, official says
Updated 12 July 2024
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Russian assassination plots against those supporting Ukraine uncovered in Europe, official says

Russian assassination plots against those supporting Ukraine uncovered in Europe, official says
  • The plots have sometimes involved recruiting common criminals in foreign countries to conduct the attacks
  • One major plot recently uncovered had targeted Armin Papperger, CEO of defense company Rheinmetall

WASHINGTON: Western intelligence agencies have uncovered Russian plots to carry out assassinations, arson and other sabotage in Europe against companies and people linked to support for Ukraine’s military — one of the most serious being a plan to kill the head of a German arms manufacturer, a Western government official said.
The plots have sometimes involved recruiting common criminals in foreign countries to conduct the attacks, said the official, who is familiar with the situation but not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One major plot recently uncovered had targeted Armin Papperger, CEO of defense company Rheinmetall, the official said.
The official declined to offer any details on other plots, which were first reported by CNN. The CNN report said the US informed Germany, whose security services were able to protect Papperger and foil the plot.
Rheinmetall is a major supplier of military technology and artillery rounds for Ukraine as it fights off Russian forces. The company last month opened an armored vehicle maintenance and repair facility in western Ukraine and also aims to start production inside the country.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson declined to comment on the alleged plot to kill Papperger but said, “Russia’s intensifying campaign of subversion is something that we are taking extremely seriously and have been intently focused on over the past few months.”
“The United States has been discussing this issue with our NATO allies, and we are actively working together to expose and disrupt these activities,” Watson added. “We have also been clear that Russia’s actions will not deter allies from continuing to support Ukraine.”
Neither Rheinmetall nor the German government would comment Friday on the reported plot against Papperger. The Interior Ministry can’t comment on “individual threat situations,” spokesperson Maximilian Kall said, but he added that more broadly, “we take the significantly increased threat from Russian aggression very seriously.”
“We know that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s regime wants above all to undermine our support for Ukraine in its defense against the Russian war of aggression, but the German government won’t be intimidated,” Kall said.
He noted that German security measures have increased significantly since 2022 and that “the threats range from espionage and sabotage, through cyberattacks, to state terrorism.”
European officials gathered for the NATO summit in Washington this week spoke of dealing with an escalation of “hybrid” attacks that they blame on Russia and its allies.
That includes what authorities called suspicious recent fires at industrial and commercial sites in Lithuania, Poland, the United Kingdom, Germany and other nations, and charges that Russia-allied Belarus was sending large numbers of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa to the borders of Poland, Latvia and other countries belonging to NATO.
When asked at a news conference at the NATO summit Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he could not comment on the CNN report. He did note a widespread campaign by Russian security services to conduct “hostile actions” against NATO allies, including sabotage, cyberattacks and arson.
“These are not standalone instances. These are part of a pattern, part of an ongoing Russian campaign. And the purpose of this campaign is, of course, to intimidate NATO allies from supporting Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.
In April, German investigators arrested two German-Russian men on suspicion of espionage, one of them accused of agreeing to carry out attacks on potential targets, including US military facilities, in hopes of sabotaging aid for Ukraine.
Germany has become the second-biggest supplier of weapons to Ukraine after the United States since Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed the report of a plan to kill Papperger. “All of this is again presented in the fake style, so such reports cannot be taken seriously,” he told reporters Friday.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his Russian counterpart, Andrei Belousov, on Friday, their second call in less than a month, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh announced at a briefing Friday. The call was initiated by the Russian defense minister, Singh said.
She did not have further details to share, including whether the two leaders spoke about the accusations that Russia had attempted to assassinate top officials of Western defense firms producing weapons systems that are sent to Ukraine, but said “maintaining lines of communication is incredibly important right now.”


US keeps barring Chinese officials over rights

US keeps barring Chinese officials over rights
Updated 12 July 2024
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US keeps barring Chinese officials over rights

US keeps barring Chinese officials over rights
  • The State Department didn’t identify or give a number of those who would be denied visas
  • The US has kept up pressure on China, including by expanding restrictions on technology exports

WAHSINGTON: The United States said Friday it would keep denying visas to Chinese officials over human rights concerns in Xinjiang, Tibet and elsewhere, vowing accountability despite a thaw in tensions between the powers.
Unlike previous high-profile actions against Chinese officials, the State Department did not identify or give a number of those who would be denied visas or specify if additional people were being blacklisted.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that United States was restricting visas to current or former officials “for their involvement in repression of marginalized religious and ethnic communities.”
Beijing “has not lived up to its commitments to respect and protect human rights, as demonstrated by the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, the erosion of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong, persistent human rights abuses in Tibet and transnational repression around the world,” he said in a statement.
He called on China to accept recommendations in the latest UN review of its rights record, including releasing citizens “it has arbitrarily and unjustly detained.”
Under previous president Donald Trump, the United States publicly named several officials who would be denied entry including Chen Quanguo, the architect of China’s hard-line policies in Tibet and then Xinjiang who has since retired.
Under President Joe Biden, the United States has kept up pressure on China, including by expanding restrictions on technology exports, but has also pursued dialogue to keep tensions in check.
The United States says that China is carrying out genocide against the mostly Muslim Uyghur people in Xinjiang, pointing to accounts of vast detention camps, allegations strongly rejected by Beijing.


UN says world population to peak at 10.3 billion in the 2080s

UN says world population to peak at 10.3 billion in the 2080s
Updated 12 July 2024
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UN says world population to peak at 10.3 billion in the 2080s

UN says world population to peak at 10.3 billion in the 2080s
  • Size of world’s population in 2100 will be six percent lower, or 700 million people fewer

NEW YORK: Earth’s population will peak in the mid-2080s at around 10.3 billion people, then drop slightly to a level much lower than anticipated a decade ago, the United Nations said.
The current population of 8.2 billion people will rise to that maximum over the next 60 years, then dip to 10.2 billion by the end of the century, says a report released Thursday entitled “World Population Prospects 2024.”
It said the size of the world’s population in 2100 will be six percent lower, or 700 million people fewer, than what was anticipated in June 2013.
“The demographic landscape has evolved greatly in recent years,” said Li Junhua, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.
He said the unexpected population peak stems from several factors that include lower levels of fertility in some of the world’s largest countries, especially China.
He said this lower maximum will also come earlier than previously calculated and this is a hopeful sign as the world fights global warming: fewer humans accounting for less aggregate consumption would mean less pressure on the environment.
“However, slower population growth will not eliminate the need to reduce the average impact attributable to the activities of each individual person,” this official said.
More than a quarter, or 28 percent, of the world’s population now lives in one of 63 countries or areas where the population has already peaked, including China, Russia, Japan and Germany, the report said.
Nearly 50 other countries should join that group over the next 30 years, including Brazil, Iran and Turkiye.
But population growth will continue in more than 120 countries beyond 2054. These include India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and the United States, said the UN.
A rise in global life expectancy — interrupted by the Covid pandemic — has resumed, with an average of 73.3 years of longevity in 2024. It will average 77.4 years in 2054.
So the world’s population will get more and more gray. By the late 2070s, the number of people 65 or older is projected to be 2.2 billion, surpassing those under 18, the study predicts.