On the evening of January 10, Van Bawi Mang, a member of an anti-army unit against the Myanmar army, was resting in his camp on the country’s northwest border with India, when a loud explosion made him realize the reality. war.
They entered a nearby trench as fighter jets flew overhead, glass shattering and the sound of falling bombs.
The camp, known as Camp Victoria, is the headquarters of the Chin National Front (CNF), an armed group that resumed its fight for independence after Myanmar’s military seized power in February 2021.
The CNF also joined the pro-democracy movement around the world, fighting alongside the new opposition groups that formed in response to the coup.
Even after the jets returned on January 10, Van Bawi Mang and his comrades spent the night in pits and bunkers across the camp, fearing another attack.
The night passed without any incident, but the soldiers attacked again in the afternoon. In total, five members of the CNF were killed in the two attacks and extensive damage was done to the camp’s buildings, including family homes and hospitals.
Myanmar’s military has not commented on the attack, which comes as fighting has been escalating for months in Chin province. Although the military has increased the use of airstrikes in recent months, this incident is the first to target the headquarters of the opposition group.
The attack not only shows that the military is increasingly trying to end resistance to their rule, but also their willingness to move closer to the country’s western border to do so.
Camp Victoria is located adjacent to the Tiau River, which separates Myanmar from the Indian state of Mizoram. The latest attack violated India’s airspace and land, according to the CNF, local Mizo organizations, and the international research and advocacy organization Fortify Rights.
Myanmar Witness, an independent non-profit organization that uses intelligence to investigate human rights, found the attack to be a “true violation of Indian airspace” and an “attack on Indian nationalism”.
This was also reported by the National Unity Government, Myanmar’s government made up of elected politicians who were removed from the decision and other democratic figures. In a statement on January 17, the government officials asked neighboring countries to stop the military from using their planes “for the sake of peace and security in the region and to protect civilians”.
At a press conference on January 19, a spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs denied reports that Myanmar forces had entered the airspace but admitted that a bomb had landed in the Tiau River near Farkawn village in Mizoram’s Champhai district.
“What has happened near our border is what worries us,” said the spokesman, adding that the ministry “has discussed the matter with the Myanmar side”.
In Mizoram, meanwhile, the strike has not only fueled voices of solidarity, including music, but anger among local unions. The Mizo people share a close bond with their Chin neighbors and, since the coup, the government has taken in more than 40,000 refugees despite having no financial support from the central government.
The bombs seem to increase Chin’s resistance. “We can sleep anywhere. We can build our camp again. It is not a big deal,” said Van Bawi Mang.
” [The military] they think that their bombs can defeat us, but they are wrong. The main thing is the spirit, the ownership of the land… This will be our main weapon.”
More attacks from space
[Below, could we please say when this was that the military gunned down hundreds of protesters?
The military’s attempts to destroy resistance to its power have similarly backfired since the coup. When the military gunned down hundreds of unarmed protesters, it only strengthened the armed resistance. The military has retaliated by raiding, burning and bombing villages, but resistance forces have continued to gather momentum.
In response, the military appears to have stepped up its use of air attacks – a forthcoming report from Myanmar Witness, based on an analysis of open-source data, shows increased reporting of such strikes in the latter part of 2022.
Shona Loong, a lecturer at the University of Zurich who specialises in the political geography of armed conflict, told Al Jazeera that the military’s bombing of Camp Victoria illustrates an approach it has used for decades to try to quell resistance in the country’s border areas, where a few ethnic armed organisations are based.
“The recent airstrikes still testify to the military’s view of Chin resistance forces as ‘terrorists’ that must be crushed, even if doing so incurs a significant civilian toll,” she said, adding that the attacks were likely to “energise the resistance even further”.
As in many military attacks, the bombing of Camp Victoria affected several civilian targets, including a hospital whose roof was marked with a red cross, recognised as a symbol of protection under international humanitarian law.
A doctor who helped set up the facility and spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons said that since it opened in August 2021, the hospital has served more than 5,000 patients, most of them civilians on both sides of the India-Myanmar border.
“We chose Camp Victoria because, without airstrikes, it is the safest place in Chin State,” he said. We did not think that doing such a brutal thing like bombing a government hospital would happen.
In response to the bombings, the CNF said it condemned “in the strongest possible terms the acts of brutality and cowardice”.
The bombs, it said in a statement published on January 13, “have made it impossible to change the situation”.
To start the increase
According to estimates by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, an international non-profit organization that creates conflict maps, more than 30,000 people have died in Myanmar’s political violence since it broke out.
Mr Salai Za Uk Ling, deputy director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, told Al Jazeera that he expected a “significant escalation” of the conflict in Chin State and that the violence was “unnecessary because of the determination and commitment of the Chin from the beginning.”.
The attacks, which forced another 250 people to flee across the border, also have implications for Mizoram. Since the coup d’état, civil society groups have been organizing for refugees to come.
But while Mizo communities have welcomed the new arrivals, the bombings at Camp Victoria have caused panic for various reasons.
C Lalramliana, President of the Farkawn Village Council, told Al Jazeera that a week after the bombing, villagers seem to be avoiding the Tiau River unless they have to go there.
Two men collecting sand along the riverbank on January 10 said the attacks in Myanmar put their lives at risk.
TC Lalhmangaihsanga was loading sand in his truck when he heard three bomb blasts. The third, he said, landed about 50 meters (164 ft) from his car – a piece of debris pierced the metal wall of the driver from behind, passed over the driver’s head and broke the windshield.
Vanlalmuana Hramlo, who owns and drives a tractor, was on his way back to his village carrying sand when he heard the blast. “I was afraid that when we were driving, [the Myanmar military] “Maybe they will think that we are running away and they can shoot us,” he said.
Mizo people’s organizations have spoken out strongly against these attacks.
“It is a bitter blow to our great country, India, by the airstrikes that threaten and threaten Indian farmers, sand carriers and civilians,” said a statement from the Young Mizo Association (YMA), one of the government’s organizations. the most popular groups.
A committee made up of six Mizo organizations, including the YMA, meanwhile, described the bombings as “disrespectful and direct opposition to Indian sovereignty and a violation of the rights of the Indian people, especially the Mizo people”.
The statement shows a deep ambivalence in the response to the seizure of Mizoram by the Indian central government.
The Mizoram State Government from the beginning showed solidarity with the people of Myanmar and provided a safe haven for the refugees. The central government, in contrast, initially tried to “stop the flow” of refugees in the country’s northeast and has maintained relations with Myanmar’s military authorities.
Angshuman Choudhury, a fellow at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi who focuses on Myanmar and northeast India, told Al Jazeera that the bombings at Camp Victoria will not force the Indian government to change its policies in Myanmar.
“For a year or so, the Indian government has consolidated its relationship with the Myanmar military to further their economic and strategic interests,” he said. “One bombing incident at the border will not derail this.”
Live and resist
At the beginning of the attack on Camp Victoria, the CNF was warning about the dangers of such an event. On November 2, a military reconnaissance plane flew over the camp; military documents it leaked the same week it revealed its plans to destroy 14 houses in the camp.
Members of the Chin resistance told Al Jazeera that the Indian government’s silence following the bombings led to distrust and a sense of abandonment.
However, the CNF offered an olive branch in its January 13 statement.
“Neighboring countries need to realize that business as usual and the military is not sustainable or ready for long-term goals. The future belongs to people and change,” it said.
Chin opposition leaders told Al Jazeera that they hope to be able to deal with India soon.
“We believe that India is important for our survival and struggle for our freedom, as a good neighbor and a democratic country,” said Salai Ceu Bik Thawng, CNF advisor. “It would be welcome if they could help.”
Sui Khar, vice-chairman of CNF-3, said he hoped that India would realize that it would gain from fighting Myanmar’s resistance.
“India must also realize that they cannot achieve their goals, their goals are only to have good relations with Naypyidaw,” he said, referring to the large capital that military officials built for themselves during the previous military regime.
“They need to meet with other stakeholders.”