Since seizing power in Myanmar in a coup six weeks ago, soldiers and police have gunned down more than 200 peaceful protesters and arrested nearly 2,200 people, and beatings and torture are being reported with increasing regularity.
In the country’s borderlands, where armed ethnic groups have been fighting for self-determination for decades, the situation is becoming increasingly unstable.A local leader from San Pya village in Hpakant township, who spoke to Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity, said that he awoke to the sound of explosions and gunfire at about 2am (20:30 GMT) on the morning of March 15. About three hours later, a rocket-propelled grenade fell on the village, destroying one house; locals found a second unexploded device later that day lying in the street.
At least 100 women and children in the village’s mostly-Christian community have taken shelter in nearby churches.
“If fighting continues, it won’t be safe in the churches either,” said the local leader. “We, the people, do not have weapons, so we are afraid.”
Near the confluence of the N’Mai and Mali rivers in an area called Myitsone, a forested area 40 kilometres [25 miles] north of the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina, clashes earlier this week prompted at least 100 people to flee.
One person from the village of Gwi Htau, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera he and others fled the village after hearing gunshots nearby. Some people have since returned, while others are staying in local monasteries and churches.He says weak phone signals, as well as the military’s move this week to block mobile data across the country, have made it difficult to share news or information about villagers’ humanitarian needs, while no one has visited the affected areas because of the ongoing instability. Al Jazeera spoke to the villager by phone and his voice was faint and difficult to hear due to the weak connection.
On Thursday, clashes appeared to have intensified in Hpakant township, with the KIA attack of a Tatmadaw base and the detonation of an improvised explosive device.
The spike in fighting in Kachin has happened as the military has stepped up its use of lethal force, violence and threats against civilians calling for the restoration of democracy in cities and towns across the country.
Army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup, said on Tuesday that the protests had “turned into riots and violence,” according to a state media report.
He also said the police force “was assigned duties to subdue the protests according to democratic norms by exercising utmost restraint,” and the Tatmadaw was “helping the police troops as rearguards in required places to solve the difficulties and obstacles”.
The shooting, he said, “had to disperse the protesters, resulting in some security forces and protesters’ casualties.”
In Kachin, on March 8, police and soldiers opened fire into crowds of protesters in front of a Catholic cathedral in Myitkyina, killing two, minutes after a nun pleaded with the officers and troops to show mercy.