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Junta ban on aid vehicles leads to humanitarian crisis in Kayah capital

A ban on aid vehicles entering Myanmar’s Loikaw city amid intensifying clashes between junta troops and the armed resistance has led to a humanitarian crisis in the Kayah state capital, relief workers and residents said Monday.

A member of a charity organization in Loikaw who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke to RFA Burmese on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal, said he left the city on Nov. 24 after the junta ordered groups to stop using their vehicles two weeks earlier.

“There are no more volunteers for relief aid, as we all fear for our security,” he said. “In the past, we evacuated [civilians] trapped in the city. We carried people hit by artillery shelling to hospitals and buried the bodies of people killed. Now our hearts are broken because we can’t provide relief to people in need.”

Loikaw city is located about 225 kilometers (140 miles) east of Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw by car. Charity groups told RFA that more than 10,000 civilians are “trapped” in the city amid the recent fighting that has seen the rebels advance on junta-held territory.

Aid workers said that junta troops also confiscated two of their trucks on Nov. 11, suggesting they might fear that members of the People’s Defense Force, or PDF, paramilitaries will use ambulances or other vehicles to disguise themselves and carry out attacks against the military in the city.

“However, aid organizations have never done this kind of thing,” another member of a charity group said. “Also, the PDF doesn’t seek medical treatment [for their fighters] at Loikaw Public Hospital because they have their own medical treatment facilities.”

Sources in Loikaw told RFA that the junta had tightened security in the city after pro-military netizens “spread misinformation” on social media platforms about local aid groups providing assistance to the PDF.

Need for aid urgent

There are at least five charity organizations in Loikaw, but all of them stopped providing services after the junta banned them from using vehicles on Nov. 11.

A resident told RFA that the need for humanitarian assistance in the city is still urgent, noting that following an attack by the military on PDF forces on Nov. 26, at least one injured civilian died from blood loss, which could have been prevented if they had access to basic treatment.

“A woman was wounded in her thigh and abdomen after soldiers shot her on her motorbike in the downtown area,” the resident said. “No charity group could rescue her. She fell down in the middle of the road and, as no one helped her, she died.”

Members of volunteer organizations help evacuate displaced persons in Myanmar’s Karen state, Nov. 28, 2023. (Shwe Nyaungbin Charity Organization)
Members of volunteer organizations help evacuate displaced persons in Myanmar’s Karen state, Nov. 28, 2023. (Shwe Nyaungbin Charity Organization)

The junta has not made any announcement prohibiting charity organizations from operating in Loikaw. Attempts by RFA to call Myint Kyi, the junta’s social affairs minister and spokesperson for the Kayah state government, went unanswered Monday.

Ban akin to ‘rights violation’

Banyar, the founder of the NGO Karenni Human Rights Group, said that the ban is “a form of human rights violation” that will likely lead to unnecessary deaths.

“No charity organizations are working in Loikaw as armed conflict is intensifying and artillery attacks may hit any time,” he said. “The prohibition will lead to loss of lives … People will die from their injuries if they do not receive first aid.” 

At least 76 civilians were killed in Loikaw, as well as the Kayah townships of Pekhon and Moebye from Nov. 11-27, including a dozen minors, the group Karenni Humanitarian Aid Initiatives said in a Nov. 28 statement. 

A recent offensive by the armed resistance in Kayah state saw ethnic Karenni forces seize Loikaw University and several military outposts. The groups say they have no plans to end their attacks on the junta’s administrative mechanisms in the city.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.