On the afternoon of January 10, Phan Bawe Maang, a member of an armed resistance group fighting the Myanmar army, was resting in his barracks at a camp on the country’s northwest border with India when a loud explosion jolted him back to the reality of war.

He lunged into a nearby crater as fighter jets circled overhead, glass shattering with the sound of falling bombs.

The camp, known as Camp Victoria, is the headquarters of the Chin National Front (CNF), an ethnic militant organization that resumed its dormant fight for autonomy after the Myanmar military seized power in a coup in February 2021.

CNF has also joined the nationwide pro-democracy movement, fighting alongside it Latest resistance groups formed in response to the coup.

Even after the planes withdrew on January 10, Van Bawe Mang and his comrades spent a sleepless night huddled in trenches and dugouts throughout the camp, fearful of further attacks.

The night passed without further incident but the army struck again the next afternoon. In all, five members of the National Armed Forces were killed in the two attacks, and there was significant damage to camp buildings, including residences for families and a medical center.

The Myanmar army has not issued any statement on the attacks, which come amid a months-long escalation in fighting in Chin State. Although the army has stepped up its use of airstrikes in recent months, the incident marked the first attack targeting the headquarters of a resistance group.

The attacks highlight not only the generals’ increasingly brazen attempts to root out resistance against their rule, but also their willingness to venture close to the country’s western borders to do so.

Camp Victoria is located next to the Tiaw River, which separates Myanmar from the Indian state of Mizoram. The latest attack violated Indian airspace and soil, according to CNF, local Mizo organizations, and the International Research and Advocacy Organization. Fortress of Rights.

Myanmar Witness, an independent non-profit organization that uses open source data to investigate human rights incidents, have found The attacks were an “almost certain breach of Indian airspace” as well as a “potential attack on Indian sovereign territory”.

CNF soldiers sit in a circle on the ground outside at Camp Victoria before the attack
Camp Victoria, near Myanmar’s northwest border with India, is the headquarters of the Chin National Front, an ethnic armed group fighting against the military regime. [Courtesy of CNF]

This claim has also been made by the Government of National Unity, the Myanmar administration made up of elected politicians removed in the coup and other pro-democracy figures. In a January 17 statement, the administration called on neighboring countries to prevent military use of their airspace “in the interests of regional peace and security and the protection of civilians.”

During a media briefing on 19 January, the Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson denied reports that Myanmar’s military had intruded into its airspace, but acknowledged that a bomb had fallen in the Tiaw riverbed near Farkawon village in Chamhai district of Mizoram.

“Such incidents near our borders are of great concern to us,” the spokesperson said, adding that the ministry had “taken up the matter with Myanmar”.

Meanwhile, the attacks in Mizoram not only sparked expressions of solidarity, including at a concert, but also led to anger among local organisations. The people of Mizu share a close ethnic affinity with their Qin neighbors, and since the coup, the country has taken in more than 40,000 refugees despite a lack of funding support from the central government.

The bombings also seem to have sharpened Chen’s resistance. “We can sleep anywhere. We can rebuild our camp again. That’s not the main thing,” said Fan Bawe Mang.

” [The military] He thinks their bombs can defeat us, but they are wrong. The main thing is the spirit, land ownership … This will be our main weapon.

More attacks from the air

[Below, could we please say when this was that the military gunned down hundreds of protesters?

The military’s attempts to destroy resistance to its power have similarly backfired since the coup. When the military gunned down hundreds of unarmed protesters, it only strengthened the armed resistance. The military has retaliated by raiding, burning and bombing villages, but resistance forces have continued to gather momentum.

In response, the military appears to have stepped up its use of air attacks – a forthcoming report from Myanmar Witness, based on an analysis of open-source data, shows increased reporting of such strikes in the latter part of 2022.

Shona Loong, a lecturer at the University of Zurich who specialises in the political geography of armed conflict, told Al Jazeera that the military’s bombing of Camp Victoria illustrates an approach it has used for decades to try to quell resistance in the country’s border areas, where a few ethnic armed organisations are based.

“The recent airstrikes still testify to the military’s view of Chin resistance forces as ‘terrorists’ that must be crushed, even if doing so incurs a significant civilian toll,” she said, adding that the attacks were likely to “energise the resistance even further”.

As in many military attacks, the bombing of Camp Victoria affected several civilian targets, including a hospital whose roof was marked with a red cross, recognised as a symbol of protection under international humanitarian law.

Hospital beds in a room with broken glass and some debris on the floor after an air strike
A hospital, clearly marked with a red cross on the roof, was damaged in the air raids [Supplied]

Since opening in August 2021, the hospital has served more than 5,000 patients, most of them civilians, on both sides of the India-Myanmar border, said a doctor who helped set up the facility and spoke on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns.

“We chose Camp Victoria because, without air attacks, it is the safest place across the Qin state,” he said. “We did not think that such an inhumane act as a bomb explosion on a civilian hospital would happen.”

In response to the bombings, the CNF said it condemned “in the strongest terms the brutal and cowardly acts”.

In a statement published on January 13, it said the bombings had “made it impossible to reverse the ongoing revolution”.

Trigger for escalation

According to an estimate by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, an international crisis-mapping nonprofit, more than 30,000 people have died in political violence in Myanmar since the coup.

Salai Za Ok Ling, deputy director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, told Al Jazeera that he expected a “significant escalation” of the conflict in Chin state and that the attacks were “naive given how determined and committed the Chin resistance was from the start”.

The attacks, which have forced some 250 more people to flee across the border, are also having repercussions in Mizoram. Since the coup, community groups have organized a grassroots humanitarian response to the influx of refugees.

But while the Mizu communities welcomed the newcomers, the Camp Victoria bombings caused concern for a variety of reasons.

C Lalramliana, head of the Farkawon village council, told Al Jazeera that from a week after the bombing, the villagers seemed to avoid the Tiaw River unless they had to go there.

Two men collecting sand from the river bank on January 10 said Myanmar’s attacks had put their lives in danger.

TC Lalhmangaihsanga was loading sand on his truck when he heard three bomb blasts. He said the third car fell about 50 meters (164 feet) from his truck – a piece of shrapnel pierced the metal driver’s cab wall from behind, traveling through the driver’s headrest and smashing the windshield.

Fanlalmoana Haramlo, who owns and drives a tractor, was on his way back to his village with a load of sand when he heard the explosions. “I was afraid we were driving uphill, [the Myanmar military] They may think we are fleeing and may shoot us.”

Mizo community organizations have spoken out strongly against the attacks.

The most influential groups, said a statement from a regional affiliate of the Young Mizu Association (YMA), one of the state institutions.

Two Myanmar military aircraft fire missiles during a joint exercise of the Myanmar army and air force near Magway in January 2019.
Upcoming analysis of open source data by Myanmar Witness shows Myanmar military increased aerial attacks on opponents in the latter part of 2022 [File: AFP]

Meanwhile, a panel of six Mizo organizations, including the YMA, called the bombings “an act of disrespect, a direct challenge to the sovereignty of India and a violation of the human rights of Indian citizens in general and the people of Mizo in particular”.

The statements reflect a broader dissonance in responses to the coup from Mizoram and the central Indian government.

From the outset, the Mizoram State Government has expressed its solidarity with the people of Myanmar and has offered a safe haven to the refugees. In turn, the central government initially sought to “prevent a possible influx” of refugees into the northeastern states of the country and maintained diplomatic relations with Myanmar’s top military generals.

Angshuman Choudhury, an associate fellow at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi who focuses on Myanmar and northeastern India, told Al Jazeera that the Camp Victoria bombings are unlikely to prompt India’s central government to change its policies toward Myanmar.

“Over the past year or so, the Indian government has strengthened its relationship with the Myanmar military regime in order to advance its economic and strategic interests,” he said. A single bombing incident along the border is unlikely to have any effect on that.

Deal with the resistance

In the run-up to the attacks on Camp Victoria, the CNF had been warning of the danger of such an incident. On November 2, a military reconnaissance plane flew over the camp. Secret military documents It was leaked the same week, revealing plans to attack 14 of the camp’s buildings.

Members of the Chin Resistance told Al Jazeera that the Indian government’s initial silence following the bombings led to a lack of trust and a sense of abandonment.

However, CNF offered an olive branch in its January 13 statement.

Our neighboring countries must realize that business as usual with a military junta is neither sustainable nor strategic to their long-term interests. She said that the future belongs to the people and the revolution.

A Qin officer holds a clip board in a roll call with a red, white, and blue flag in the center of the parade ground
Chen’s leaders, who are part of the resistance to the 2021 coup, want India to reconsider its dealings with the Myanmar military. [Supplied]

Chen resistance leaders told Al Jazeera that they hoped they would be able to engage positively with India in the near future.

“We believe that India is also responsible for our survival and our struggle for freedom, as a good neighbor and also a democratic country,” said Salai Siew Pek Thong, CNF Adviser. “It would be most welcome if they could provide support.”

Soe Khar, vice president of CNF-3, said he hoped India would realize it would benefit by engaging in Myanmar’s resistance.

“India should also realize that it cannot achieve its policies, and its objectives are just to have a good relationship with Naypyidaw,” he said, referring to the great capital that the generals built for themselves during the previous military regime.

“They have to engage with other stakeholders.”

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