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4/26/2024 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) — The Karen National Union, a rebel group in Myanmar, announced this week that it was staging a temporary retreat from Myawaddy, a key border town it captured from junta forces earlier this month. The town has served as a crucial point for billions of dollars in trade between Myanmar and Thailand since the Burmese seized control in February 2021. 

Junta forces have reportedly retaken the town with the assistance of the Karen National Army (KNA). This profiteering militia has previously aligned itself with the junta but now operates in its own interests. The KNA split off from the anti-junta Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in 2010. It has significant economic interests in the Myawaddy area, operating scam call centers, casinos, and an international human trafficking ring to supply workers for its various enterprises. 

The KNLA is one of the oldest militias in the country and has actively defended religious and ethnic minorities against junta aggression for decades. 

The loss of Myawaddy was considered the junta’s largest since the major offensive was launched against it last fall. Hundreds of government troops surrendered to the rebels outside of Myawaddy, adding to the regime’s woes. 

Experts believe that the Tatmadaw is atrophying rapidly, with as few as 150,000 personnel remaining after the loss of about 21,000 through casualties or desertions since the 2021 coup. This number is significantly smaller than previous estimates of 300,000 to 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 militias’ gains have reduced the area under solid Tatmadaw control to 17% or less.

Earlier this month, the U.N. released figures showing a threefold increase in civilian casualties by landmines in 2023 over the previous year, verifying 1,052 incidents in 2023 compared to 390 in 2022. More than 20% of victims, the U.N. said in a statement, were children. 

“Children are particularly vulnerable to landmines as they are less likely to recognize them and may be unaware of their dangers,” the U.N. said. “The widespread deployment of weapons throughout the country means that children can encounter landmines practically anywhere, including near their homes, schools, playgrounds, and farming areas.” 

Though Myanmar’s population is about 87% Buddhist, pockets of minority religious communities exist throughout the country, including in Kayeh state, where about 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.

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

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