Myanmar army adopts ‘4 cuts’ to stamp out coup opponents | Battle Information
Around noon on May 24, Awng Di, 13, went to his aunt’s house in Kachin State, Myanmar, to feed her chickens. Thirty minutes later, heavy artillery crashed through the hen house; Awng Di died before reaching the nearby clinic.
“Our family has never been involved in politics … We are just trying to survive,” Awng Di’s mother told Al Jazeera. “Now I want to curse [the military soldiers] every time I see her. “
Awng Di’s community, Momauk, has been the site of clashes between the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, and the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of an ethnic armed organization, since April. The increase in violence in Momauk and other parts of Kachin state has displaced more than 11,000 people, according to UN estimates.
The clashes in Momauk mark a broader escalation of fighting across the country since the February 1 military coup, as decades of conflicts between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed organizations in the border areas of Myanmar resume or accelerate and civil defense forces emerge in townships that do so hadn’t seen fighting before.
In response to the surge in armed resistance, the Tatmadaw has carried out indiscriminate air and ground strikes on civilian areas, displacing 230,000 people since the coup. Security forces have also ransacked and burned homes, blocked aid access and transport, restricted water supplies, cut telecommunications networks, shot at shelters, and killed and arrested volunteers attempting to provide humanitarian aid.
According to Naw Htoo Htoo, program director for the Karen Human Rights Group, the Tatmadaw patterns of violence since the coup mark the continuation of a strategy known as the four cuts, which the military used in Karen state in the 1960s and against civilians in other ethnic groups since then Minority areas.
“[The Tatmadaw] no longer uses the words ‘four cuts’ but the strategy is definitely the same as the four cuts they have used on ethnic people for over 70 years, ”said Naw Htoo Htoo.
By restricting access to food, money, intelligence and recruits, among other things, the strategy seeks to starve the armed resistance support base and incite civilians against resistance groups.
In addition to Karen state, the armed forces have also used the strategy in areas such as Kachin and Rakhine states, most notoriously in northern Rakhine state in 2017 when their “clearance operations” fled hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh.
According to Kim Jolliffe, an independent researcher focused on security and conflict in Myanmar, the Four Cuts strategy “treats civilians not just as ‘collateral damage’ but as a central resource on the battlefield.
“They are being attacked directly with extreme violence and see that their livelihoods are being deliberately destroyed so that armed groups cannot find refuge and civil support,” he told Al Jazeera.
Since the coup, the Tatmadaw appears to have expanded its deployment to four cuts across the country, including areas predominantly inhabited by the Bamar ethnic majority. After security forces ransacked homes in Gangaw Township in the central Magway region in late March, locals began to fight back with hunting rifles. The Tatmadaw responded with heavy explosive devices and machine guns that killed four people and more than 10,000 fled into the forest, according to local media group Myanmar Now.
Arbitrary violence also erupted in Pauk Township, Magway area, on the night of June 15, when more than 200 houses in Kinma village burned down, killing an elderly couple trapped in their home. Two Kinma residents, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said they were unaware of the clashes that led to the fire, but Myanmar Now said the incident occurred days after skirmishes between local resistance fighters and plainclothes police and soldiers .
One of the villagers told Al Jazeera that at around 11 p.m. on June 15, he saw at least nine people in plain clothes enter the village, setting fire to houses and shooting cattle, pigs and buffalo.
The Tatmadaw blamed 40 “terrorists” for the incident and said media accusing it of setting fire to the village sought to discredit it.
The military spokesman did not respond to repeated calls from Al Jazeera for comments on the violence or the use of the “four cuts” strategy.
According to Than Tun Aung, the pseudonym for one of the two Kinma villagers, that of Al Jazeera. were interviewed, Kinma residents are now scattered in nearby villages or living in makeshift shelters in the jungle, running out of food and supplies. “Collecting supplies is a challenge because there may be police officers or soldiers on the way,” he said. “We are always vigilant and ready for action.”
“All lives are threatened”
Kayah State and neighboring southern Shan State, which were peaceful before the coup, have been a police station in Moebye City, Shan since May 23 as a group called the Karenni People’s Defense Force. Overrun, also targeted by intense Tatmadaw attacks. The state’s Pekon community and fighting quickly spread across the region. While civil defense fighters carried out targeted ambushes with homemade weapons, the Tatmadaw launched “indiscriminate attacks”, firing artillery and rifles into civilian areas and displacing 100,000 people, most of whom now live in nearby forests.
Churches where some have sought refuge have been repeatedly attacked, including the Sacred Heart Church in Loikaw Township, Kayah state, which was shelled on May 24 and killed four people.
The aid deliveries in Kayah and Shan are difficult and dangerous. The Tatmadaw has blocked the flow of goods to conflict-affected townships, killed and arrested volunteers and killed two displaced people trying to get rice from their homes.
The Myanmar military has stepped up attacks on civilians and relief supplies as opposition to its coup has increased. Loikaw residents say this church, where people were seeking refuge, was shelled by the armed forces [File: Kantarawaddy Times via AFP]Joseph Reh, a volunteer in the Pekon Township who preferred not to reveal his real name for security reasons, told Al Jazeera that his group initially used white flags to provide aid in hopes that they would protect them , but that security forces shot them anyway.
His group stored food and relief supplies in a school, but was initially unable to distribute the goods due to the risk of assault. When volunteers tried to carry sacks of rice to displaced people hiding in the mountains on the afternoon of June 8, he said security forces shot at the group’s van and forced it to turn back.
“That was how they found out where we keep our groceries and supplies,” said Joseph Reh. “They came to school, took all of our supplies to a field and burned them” that evening. In total, more than 80 bags of rice as well as supplies of other dry food, medical supplies, an ambulance and a car were destroyed.
“They destroyed things that they shouldn’t and that had nothing to do with the People’s Defense Forces they are fighting,” said Joseph Reh. “The food they burned was for displaced people only … The ambulance they burned had nothing to do with the fight. It said RESCUE and had a red cross logo. “
According to Joseph Reh, security forces fired into the mountains over the next two days and further restricted aid deliveries.
In addition to food and supply shortages, the displaced are faced with inadequate accommodation and medical care. In the community of Mindat, Chin state, where civil defense took up hunting rifles and homemade weapons in mid-May, the Tatmadaw launched heavy weapon attacks that displaced more than 20,000 people. At least six displaced people have since died from lack of access to health care, according to Radio Free Asia.
“Everything is under military control and all lives are threatened,” said Salai Shane, the pseudonym for the head of a voluntary emergency group in Mindat. He described “extreme difficulties” trying to access displaced persons.
Protesters in Mandalay are preparing to burn a false coffin for Army Ruler Min Aung Hlaing on July 3rd. The use of extreme force by the military against demonstrators fueled further anger against the regime [File: Time For Revolution via Reuters]On June 13, one of his group’s vehicles was seized on the way from Pakokku, Magway region, to Mindat while carrying food and raincoats; Salai Shane has since lost contact with the driver. Security forces arrested another member of the group on June 19 and confiscated his motorcycle and the relief supplies he was carrying to the displaced. During a week in detention, he was beaten and interrogated, according to Salai Shane’s report.
With volunteers shot dead in Kayah state, Salai Shane is particularly afraid of walking to help. “Sometimes there is no route for motorbikes and we have to carry items ourselves over several trips,” he said. “If we’re in the forest or the jungle, we can be killed and our corpses disappear.”
The military stirs up anger
According to independent researcher Kim Jolliffe, the Tatmadaw is willing to do “unfathomable things” to the public in order to maintain control. “They only know one way to deal with opposition and that is to use extreme violence to force every deviant element of society into submission,” he said.
But while the strategy of the four cuts could seek to incite the public against armed resistance or weaken resolve, Naw Htoo Htoo of the Karen Human Rights Group says the approach is likely to backfire.
“There could be an impact on armed resistance in the short term due to food and water scarcity and limited access to resources, but in the long term [the Tatmadaw] won’t be able to rule anywhere, ”she said. “The more they suppress people, the stronger civilians become, because if they deliberately attack everyone, people hate them more.”
Victims of Tatmadaw violence since the coup said Al Jazeera the experience had cemented their hatred of the security forces and made them even more determined to ensure their doom.
The burned-out remains of Kinma Village. Local residents say the military burned their homes. An elderly couple could not escape and died in the fire [File: Pauk Township News via AFP]”We will never be able to see the military positively,” Than Tun Aung from Kinma village told Al Jazeera. “We just want to continue to live peacefully as farmers … We have to end this military regime or we will suffer all our lives.”
In Mindat, Salai Shane came to a similar conclusion. “If civil defense forces could defeat the military and remove them from the area, we could freely resume our business and agricultural activities and live better lives,” he said. “We cannot separate the two: armed resistance groups are made up of civilians because we all hate the military regime and we aim to abolish it. Limiting aid to civilians will only delay the armed resistance movement, it will not stop it. “