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In Burma, displaced after air raids number in the thousands

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More than 12,000 displaced people have fled airstrikes carried out by the Burmese army, according to one of the main rebel factions which is calling on the country’s multitude of ethnic minorities to unite against the regime’s murderous crackdown.

“More than 12,000 civilians have fled their villages causing a major humanitarian crisis,” said the Karen National Union (KNU). Responding to the security forces’ bloodbath against opponents of the February 1 coup, the KNU last week seized a military base in Karen state in the southeast of the country, killing ten soldiers.

The army responded with air raids targeting faction strongholds, a first for twenty years in this region. “Many civilians died, including minors and students. Schools, houses and villages have been destroyed, ”the KNU noted.

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Request for retaliation

“We urge all ethnic minorities in the country (which number more than 130, editor’s note) to take strong action and take sanctions” against those responsible.

Since Burma’s independence in 1948, many ethnic armed factions have been in conflict with the central government for more autonomy, access to numerous natural resources or a share of the lucrative drug trade.

As of 2015, the military had concluded a National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with ten of them, including the powerful Karen National Union. “We hope that the majority of KNU members will respect the ceasefire,” junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said on Saturday, assuring that the air raids only lasted one day.

The 10 rebel factions that signed the ANC are holding a meeting this weekend. Shortly after the coup d’état, they had indicated that they would continue to apply the ceasefire, despite the passage in force of the generals.

But since then “hundreds of civilians, children, adolescents and women have been killed” by the security forces, they wrote in a statement on Saturday. “We will re-evaluate” our position during the meeting. Other armed groups have already provided support for democratic mobilization and threatened to take up arms against the junta.

On this subject: In Burma, the protest erases ethnic divisions

The warning from the Swiss UN envoy

The UN envoy for Burma, the Swiss Christine Schraner Burgener, this week warned of an “unprecedented” risk of “civil war”.

More than 550 civilians have been shot by security forces in the past two months, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners. The toll could be much heavier: some 2,700 people have been arrested. Held incommunicado, without access to their loved one or to a lawyer, many are missing.

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