By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Tens of thousands of mainly Christian ethnic Karen people were hiding in the jungles of Myanmar on Sunday, after fresh attacks by the military that took power in a coup, aid workers told Worthy News.
“There are estimated to be 20,000 newly displaced ethnic Karen people hiding in the jungles of Myanmar amongst whom are many Christians,” said Christian aid group Barnabas Fund.
“Some are constantly on the move, shifting every day or two when they hear the Myanmar army approaching. Others have buried themselves so deep in the jungle that our partners have to search for them with drones,” the group told Worthy News.
News of the fighting came as elsewhere in Myanmar, also known as Burma, more than 80 people were killed by Myanmar security forces in a crackdown on a pro-democracy protest in the city of Bago, activists said Sunday.
The military is reported to have taken away the bodies of those killed, and the actual number of deaths may never be accurately established, reporters and activists suggested. Hundreds more are known to have died since the February 1 coup began.
Back in the jungles, Christians in the area said the army was firing mortars at villages, fields, and even into the wilderness. “The military is forcing the terrified villagers out of their homes and deeper into the jungle, so they cannot tend their crops or animals,” Barnabas Fund explained.
The Buddhist-majority army is known for attacking predominantly Christian ethnic groups in the country and other religious minorities.
However, its airstrikes have intensified in especially Myanmar’s southeastern Karen state, killing several people, including children, and injuring many more, aid groups say.
Among those killed in the bombing since last month was a 5-year-old boy while a 12-year-old girl was hit in the face by bomb shrapnel, according to relief group Free Burma Rangers (FBR.
The girl had come to Day Bu Noh village to attend school, the organization said. A high school in Dwe Lo Township was also destroyed in an airstrike last, but no casualties were reported as the students were hiding, aid workers said. But six people were killed and 11 injured by airstrikes near Hsaw Hti township on March 30, the FBR claimed.
Many of the villages targeted are controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic armed group that holds large swathes of territory in the borderlands. The KNU has condemned the Myanmar military's bombing campaign. "Villagers, including underage children, have been killed by airstrikes," the KNU statement said. "Many are injured."
The army says it is responding to deadly attacks by ethnic Karen and Kachin armed forces. However, Christian aid workers suggest the attacks deliberately target civilians. They said Christians in the area urgently need blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, tarpaulins, rice, dry food, and medicines.
Barnabas Fund said its partners used drones to locate Karen people who constantly movefor the advancing army.
“It is a miracle that you found my family and me,” a Karen father was quoted as saying in published remarks. “Not many people know that we live here in secret.”
The army attacks come when leaders of the protest movement against the military’s February ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi seek an alliance with ethnic minorities’ armed groups to pressure the junta.
They would reportedly like them to form what they are calling a federal army as a counterweight to the government armed forces.
Leaders of the ethnic minorities armed forces say they were set up to fend off army attacks.
The Kachin, the Karen, and the Rakhines’ Arakan Army in western Myanmar — have publicly denounced the coup and said they would defend protesters in the territory they control.
Amid the turmoil, thousands have tried to reach overcrowded camps in neighboring Thailand, but many were reportedly forced to return.
Thailand denied forcing back more than 2,000 mainly Christian refugees despite video footage suggesting many boarding boats under Thai soldiers’ watch, Worthy News reported earlier.