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03/26/2024 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) — Thailand, in conjunction with the Thai and Myanmar Red Cross organizations, began delivering aid to Myanmar on Monday.  

The move, designed to address widespread food insecurity and worsening humanitarian conditions in the country under military rule, has been widely criticized by human rights advocates around the world — for giving power to the junta without checks to ensure that the aid is delivered to those most in need. 

“Humanitarian aid is incredibly important,” UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said in a press conference last week. “The problem that we have right now is that humanitarian aid is not going to the areas that need it most.”  Across Myanmar (also called Burma), the communities most affected by the humanitarian crisis are those engaged in a decades-long war against the junta. Bombed, raided, and displaced, these groups sadly have no hope of receiving food aid from the junta-run Myanmar Red Cross in charge of distribution. 

Expounding on the areas of most severe need, Andrews said that he was referring to “the conflict areas…that is where most of the people who need humanitarian aid are.” Unfortunately, the need is large and growing. “There are 18.6 million people who are in need of humanitarian aid. When I started as special rapporteur that number was 1 million in 2020—it’s now 18.6.”  

The first shipment from Thailand will precede aid delivered in the coming months. 

Speaking to the flow of aid, Andrews expressed concern that it would be used to the junta’s advantage. “We know that the junta takes these resources, including humanitarian, and weaponizes them, uses them for their military strategic advantage. The fact of the matter is, is that the reason that humanitarian aid is in such desperate need is precisely because of the junta.” 

Though Myanmar’s population is about 87% Buddhist, pockets of minority religious communities exist throughout the country, including in Kayeh State where nearly 46% of the population identifies as Christian. On Myanmar’s western border with India, Chin State is about 85% Christian while Rakhine State is home to a significant population of Rohingya people, most of whom are Muslim. 

Standing for an extremist interpretation of Buddhism, the Tatmadaw has long persecuted these ethnic and religious minorities with severe campaigns of violence and intimidation. 

Experts believe that the Tatmadaw is atrophying rapidly, with as few as 150,000 personnel staying after the loss of about 21,000 through casualties or desertions since the 2021 coup. This number is significantly smaller than earlier estimates of 300,000-400,000 and calls into question the junta’s ability to sustain its nationwide military campaign. Research from the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar suggests that anti-junta militia gains have reduced the area under solid Tatmadaw control to as little as 17%. 

Burma’s military government announced in February that it would begin national conscription. The draft applies to all men aged 18-35 and all women aged 18-27 and can extend up to five years. 

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