The recent increase in conflict in Myanmar’s Shan State has resulted in the displacement of approximately 25,000 individuals, adding further strain to an already stretched humanitarian response, according to the United Nations.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reports that the number of civilians forced to flee their homes has risen from about 6,200 people as of October 30 to over 23,000. These individuals are primarily seeking refuge in religious buildings and wooded areas. This situation compounds the challenges faced by the more than 14,000 people already displaced in northern Shan.
A week back, three significant ethnic armed groups launched attacks on junta troops in a large area of northern Shan State, where there are plans for a billion-dollar railway link, a part of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. The Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army have subsequently reported that they have captured several military posts and vital roads.
These three organizations, collectively believed to have at least 15,000 fighters, have been engaged in frequent conflicts with the military over issues related to autonomy and control of valuable resources.
According to the UNOCHA, “as of 30th October, over 6,200 individuals have reportedly been newly displaced” as a result of the ongoing conflict.
Operation 1027 aims to drive Myanmar military forces and their allies out of northern Shan State, particularly the Kokang Self-Administered Zone (SAZ) near the Chinese border, once controlled by the MNDAA before 2009. The resistance forces have made swift progress, taking control of 92 military outposts and four towns, including Chinshwehaw and Hsenwi, both strategically important. Laukkaing, the Kokang SAZ capital, is likely the operation’s final target, and Alliance troops are encircling it. The situation is fluid, and fighting persists in various parts of northern Shan State.
Apart from its humanitarian consequences, the resistance offensive has led to the shutting down of the primary highway connecting central Myanmar to the Chinese border. It has also halted all trade at the Ruili-Muse border crossing, which is the main trade route with China.
Extended closures along the Chinese border will compound the worries of the military administration. In the period from April to September this year, data from the junta’s Ministry of Commerce, as reported by Myanmar Now, revealed that over $1.3 billion worth of trade transited through the Muse border gate, with $633 million in goods passing through the Chinshwehaw gate, representing approximately 40% of the nation’s total official overland trade.