Videos and images from northwest Myanmar paint a devastating picture of the relentless crackdown on civilian militias and ethnic armed groups by the military junta that took power just over a year ago. Forensic analysis helps people outside the country understand the plight of villagers who are shot and whose homes have been set on fire.
The town of Thantlang in Chin State – home to a predominantly Christian population – has been attacked at least 25 times since September 2021. More than half of its structures, including houses and churches, have been destroyed, including many were burned down. .
A couple from Myanmar who live in Japan document the atrocities in Thantlang. Since last year’s coup, Win Kyaw and Mathida have been studying videos and photos uploaded to social media and reporting their findings to the United Nations.
The couple, both from the Bamar ethnic majority, had difficulty understanding the Chin language spoken in the videos, so they sought help from other Myanmar nationals in Japan who come from the affected region.
Ethnic minorities, including the Chin people, have long suffered at the hands of the military. Since the coup, they have faced even greater oppression.
Win Kyaw and Mathida learn about the current situation in the ethnic states from their fellow Bamars who fled there after being targeted by the military for participating in peaceful protests.
Bamar and other ethnic groups in Myanmar unite in opposition to military rule: ‘We may be from different ethnicities, but we are all citizens of Myanmar, so we are all the same’, says Win Kyaw . “We have to offer our support.”
A Chin woman helping the couple says her view of the Bamar majority is gradually changing. She felt like they looked down on people from her background, but now she sees Bamars fighting alongside them.
In one of the videos showing a fire in Thantlang, Win Kyaw and Mathida learned that the military was shooting at people trying to put out the flames.
Win Kyaw is also in direct contact with some civilian militias. The head of the Chinland Defense Force or CDF, stationed in Thantlang, helps him understand military strategy.
In August last year, soldiers were deployed to two positions on the outskirts of the city. After intense fighting, the CDF pushed them back. The defeated soldiers lit fires in retaliation.
“The military lost soldiers, so they lit fires to take revenge,” says the CDF leader. “They burned down one or two buildings for every round we fired.”
After the September 18 fire, many people fled Thantlang. Since then, the city has been targeted several times.
NHK worked with the non-profit research group Myanmar Witness to uncover how and why the military targeted Thantlang. Footage obtained via social media shows the military sent large numbers of vehicles into Chin state in October, attacking and burning villages along the way as the convoy headed for Thantlang.
An army defector familiar with the area explained the tactic: “The army attacked Thantlang with the aim of pushing the CDF back to the Indian border. the CDF and kept them at bay, ensuring that the military outnumbered the CDF by three times.”
Many residents fled Chin State across the border to Mizoram and Manipul in India. According to human rights organization Chin, 40,000 of them sought refuge there in January 2022.
Residents of other parts of Myanmar are also attacked. The Sagaing area, adjacent to Chin State, faces relentless arson attacks. And Kayah State, to the east, is the target of airstrikes. According to the UN, more than half a million civilians across the country were forced from their homes and internally displaced in February 2022.
As their investigations continue, Win Kyaw and Mathida raise awareness and support for their compatriots affected by the unrest. They believe one of the keys to ending military oppression is for Bamars like them to work in solidarity with the country’s long-suffering ethnic minorities.