The military junta in Myanmar faces a plethora of international responses following an attack on a refugee camp in the Kachin region, killing 29 people including children. Varying sources have provided various figures; however, the confirmed number of deaths remains at 29, with an additional confirmed 59 wounded, says Reuters. A potential attack by the military junta would reflect an emerging pattern against a Christian minority in the Kachin region, near southern China. The military junta has denied any role in the attack, instead assigning blame on mismanagement of weapons and artillery by rebel groups in the region. Reuters further reports that there was an exchange of blame between the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and the military junta.
Located near the town of Laiza, the refugee camp is situated close to the Kachin Independence Army’s (KIA) headquarters, states Al Jazeera. While this could offer a potential explanation for why attacks would occur in the region given the ongoing conflict between these rebels and the ruling junta, it does not account for the large number of civilian casualties. An apparent brazenness in the attacks has elicited a strong response from the international community, with the United States Department of State swiftly moving to condemn what appeared to be a ‘military attack,’ according to Reuters. Statements by officials also noted that the attack reflected what has been a growing humanitarian disaster in the northern region of the country, inextricably linked to the 2021 coup.
The Kachin region has been a particular hotspot of violence since a military coup that removed Aung San Suu Kyi, who was a powerful political activist, and the democratically elected leadership that had been in power since 2015, according to The New York Times. The Kachin region maintains a notable minority of Christians, the third largest religious group in Myanmar, behind the majority Buddhist and slightly larger minority Rohingya Muslims. Christians in this region of Myanmar do not hold a unique experience in facing violence by the military government, as the Rohingya Muslims have faced a well-documented ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar government, through multiple different administrations.
Ruling political powers in Myanmar have repeatedly oppressed KIA efforts ever since conflict broke out in the region in 1962, because of a myriad of post-colonial factors for a state that was struggling to cement strong institutions of governance throughout the country. As a result, this oppression has kept the Kachin region crisis out of the international limelight, despite global media beginning to identify the gravity of the crisis with the Rohingya population.
Elements of conflict have proved resilient in their nature, with the cyclical nature of conflict being a result of either the KIA, among other rebel groups, or governmental military operations constantly engaging in conflict. According to The Washington Post, recent gains in territory by military groups has led to a proposed strong response by the junta. This leaves the region continually susceptible to civilian casualties, as both sides will feel the need to escalate conflict as a response to security actions by the corresponding side.
While external powers have condemned the attack, Aung San Suu Kyi called for a cease-fire between the military and numerous rebel groups, however the KIA has refused given that there has been a continuous series of attacks on Kachin populations of civilians, as reported by The Guardian. BBC News reports that the October 10 attack is even more emotionally fueled due to the fact it occurred almost exactly a year after an earlier attack at a concert in a Kachin base, which resulted in approximately 80 deaths. Both attacks are larger expressions of a consistent sequence of violence that has been carried out against the religious minority, with civilian casualties growing beyond what has become the standard series of conflict between rebel armed groups and the ruling military.