Thousands of people have fled a Myanmar border town amid an escalation of fighting between the military and militia forces in the region.
Buildings in Thantlang town, in Chin State, were set ablaze by artillery on Tuesday, forcing half of the population of about 10,000 to flee, said a community leader.
During fighting between the army and ethnic fighters last weekend, about 20 homes were set on fire, with photographs on social media showing buildings engulfed in flames.
Salai Thang, a community leader, said at least four civilians had been killed and 15 wounded in recent weeks.
He also expressed concern about the displaced people who were sheltering in nearby villages and some in India’s Mizoram state.
“Those refugees are now badly struggling for food and shelter,” he told Reuters by telephone.
Myanmar has been embroiled in turmoil since February 1, when the military seized power from the civilian government and arrested its de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and many of her associates.
The coup has already worsened the conflict between the country’s military and ethnic rebel groups, prompting new clashes that have displaced thousands of people.
Back in August, the junta said it was trying to further assert its rule by raising local militias in villages to fight opposition groups.
This led to an escalation in hostilities in areas like Chin State, prompting the National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow underground administration set up by opponents of the military, to declare an uprising earlier this month.
It called on the new militia, known as People’s Defense Forces (PDF), to target the junta and its assets.
The junta responded to the escalating violence by cracking down on potential resistance movements, including raiding private homes for unregistered guests.
According to the Chin Defense Force, which is fighting the military, 30 soldiers were killed in recent clashes in the region.
At least 18 non-military personnel, including PDF members, were also killed in the region during clashes this month.
Though Suu Kyi has called for nonviolence in the past, the NUG is calling for an armed uprising "because nonviolence can no longer protect “civilians from military atrocities," said NUG official.
The military’s crackdown on anti-coup protests has so far killed more than 1,100 people, according to a local monitoring group.