Minorities in Myanmar borderlands face fresh fear since coup

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FILE - In this March 30, 2021, file photo, Karenni villagers from Myanmar arrive on a boat with an injured person as they evacuate to Ban Mae Sam Laep Health Center in Mae Hong Son province, northern Thailand. Far away in Myanmars borderlands, millions of others who hail from Myanmars minority ethnic groups are facing increasing uncertainty and waning security as longstanding conflicts between the military and minority guerrilla armies flare anew. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File)

JAKARTA – Before each rainy season Lu Lu Aung and other farmers living in a camp for internally displaced people in Myanmar's far northern Kachin state would return to the village they fled and plant crops that would help keep them fed for the coming year.

But this year in the wake of February's military coup, with the rains not far off, the farmers rarely step out of their makeshift homes and don't dare leave their camp. They say it is simply too dangerous to risk running into soldiers from Myanmar's army or their aligned militias.

“We can’t go anywhere and can’t do anything since the coup,” Lu Lu Aung said. “Every night, we hear the sounds of jet fighters flying so close above our camp.”

The military's lethal crackdown on protesters in large central cities such as Yangon and Mandalay has received much of the attention since the coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government. But far away in Myanmar's borderlands, Lu Lu Aung and millions of others who hail from Myanmar's minority ethnic groups are facing increasing uncertainty and waning security as longstanding conflicts between the military and minority guerrilla armies flare anew.

It's a situation that was thrust to the forefront over the past week as the military launched deadly airstrikes against ethnic Karen guerrillas in their homeland on the eastern border, displacing thousands and sending civilians fleeing into neighboring Thailand.

Several of the rebel armies have threatened to join forces if the killing of civilians doesn't stop, while a group made up of members of the deposed government has floated the idea of creating a new army that includes rebel groups. The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, meanwhile, has warned the country faces the possibility of civil war.

Ethnic minorities make up about 40% of Myanmar’s 52 million people, but the central government and the military leadership have long been dominated by the country's Burman ethnic majority. Since independence from Britain in 1948, more than a dozen ethnic groups have been seeking greater autonomy, with some maintaining their own independent armies.

That has put them at odds with Myanmar's ultranationalist generals, who have long seen any ceding of territory — especially those in border areas that are often rich in natural resources — as tantamount to treason and have ruthlessly fought against the rebel armies with only occasional periods of ceasefire.