Myanmar’s military regime on Thursday cut off internet access across Chin State except for the capital Hakha, and in three townships in Magwe Region after committing a series of violent assaults in the areas, including shelling towns and burning down villages.
Local are concerned that the internet blackout means the regime is preparing to use even more intense violence against anti-regime resistance groups in the affected areas.
The mobile internet services of Myanmar’s three main telecom operators—MPT, Telenor and Ooredoo—have been blocked in Chin State since around 6 p.m. on Thursday.
Meanwhile, three Magwe Region townships—Gangaw, Hteelin and Myaing—have faced internet blackouts since Thursday evening, according to local residents.
The affected townships are strongholds of anti-regime resistance forces, which have inflicted heavy casualties on junta forces.
Since late April, an estimated 300 firefights have erupted in Chin State between the military regime’s forces and civilian resistance fighters of the Chinland Defense Force, most of whom are armed with homemade traditional hunting guns.
During the firefights, nearly 500 junta soldiers and about 60 civilian resistance fighters have been killed, according to the CDF.
Currently, Chin State is seeing fierce urban combat between junta forces and civilian resistance fighters, while all rural areas of the state are under the control of the Chinland Defense Force, a spokesperson for the CDF told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
In response to the urban attacks by CDF units and the heavy losses sustained by its forces, the Myanmar military has bombarded residential areas of three Chin State towns—Thantlang, Hakah and Mindat—in recent days.
Last Saturday, after a shootout with members of the CDF left more than 30 regime soldiers dead, junta forces shelled a residential area of Thantlang, burning down 20 houses. Regime troops also gunned down a Chin Christian pastor who had left his home to help put out the fires caused by the military’s artillery barrage.
After killing him, the junta forces cut off the pastor’s finger and stole his wedding ring and other belongings, including a watch and mobile phone.
Thantlang’s entire population of more than 8,000 people fled after junta forces began roaming the town and randomly shooting into houses on Sunday.
Junta forces also raided and burned down several villages in Magwe’s Gangaw Township, killing more than 20 civilians during their operations against civilian armed resistance groups in the second week of September.
Regime troops also killed three civilians including a teenager during raids on villages in Myaing Township, Magwe Region in mid-September. In one raid, a victim was burned alive inside a house by the junta forces. They also looted houses and torched motorbikes and an ambulance in a village.
Some civilian resistance forces claimed the junta cut internet access because local residents and resistance groups are sharing information on every movement of the regime forces.
Such information is very useful in planning ambushes against military regime troops in the region, a leader of the People’s Defense Force-Gangaw told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
The CDF spokesperson also said that by blocking internet access, the military regime wants to impose a blackout on news about their human rights violations and atrocities including shelling residential areas during clashes.
“Our people should be aware [of junta forces]. They have imposed an internet blackout so they can do whatever they want,” the spokesperson said.
He also urged the local and international communities to stay on the alert for any possible indications of human rights violations and atrocities by junta forces in Chin State during the internet blackout.
The military regime earlier cut off internet access in several Sagaing townships including Kani, Mingin, Yinmabin, Pale, Shwebo and Budalin, as well as in Mandalay Region’s Mogoke and Myingyan, on Sept. 14.
Internet access has also been cut by the junta in the jade-mining town of Hpakant, Kachin State.
All affected areas are strongholds of anti-regime resistance groups.
The internet blackout is hampering residents’ access to information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as vocational learning, and has disrupted local businesses, as online money transfer services cannot be used.
Since the parallel National Unity Government declared a People’s Defensive War against it on Sept. 7, the junta has escalated its inspections, arrests, raids and acts of violence including burning down villages and shelling residential areas across the country, especially in Sagaing and Magwe regions and Kayah and Chin states.
Meanwhile, local People’s Defense Force units have stepped up their operations targeting junta troops.
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