Children under a makeshift dwelling at a camp for displaced people in Kayah State in June 2021. (Supplied)

Displaced dig to safety from junta air strikes in Kayah State


At a makeshift camp for displaced people, two young men hack away at the red earth with a hoe and machete to build a bunker before the next junta shelling or air raid.

Myanmar’s Kayah State, near the Thai border, has become a flashpoint of armed resistance to the military’s coup, with People’s Defence Forces clashing regularly with junta troops. 

“We hear the sound of heavy weapons firing every day and we wonder if the shells will land near us,” said Ar Mu, who lives in the settlement near Demoso town.

She has been in the camp, a patchwork of tarpaulins strung up in the gaps between trees that is a temporary home to around 200 people, for months after fighting drove her from her village.

Two years after launching its coup, the military is struggling to crush resistance to its rule.

Battling fierce opposition on the ground, experts say it is resorting to artillery strikes and air power.

The military carried out more than 300 air strikes in the last year, the United Nations said earlier this month.

More than 90,000 people are currently displaced in Kayah, according to the UN’s refugee agency.

The bunkers that pockmark the camp near Demoso are little more than small chambers in the earth, their sides and roofs reinforced by sandbags and strips of wood.

In one, a group of small children play a game of snakes and ladders.

Strikes can come at any time, said Ar Mu.  

“Sometimes while we are having lunch we hear the sound of firing and we have to go straight into our bunkers.”

“It’s the worst for elderly people who are unhealthy like me. We can’t move quickly.”

Last year Amnesty International said the junta was likely using air strikes and artillery barrages as “collective punishment” against civilians opposing its coup.

“Everyone wants to go home but we can’t go back in this situation,” Khu Oo Reh, a more recent arrival to the camp, told AFP.

“I told my family that we can go home one day.”

Until then, and as bombardments and air raids remain a threat, the families sheltering in the camp know their lives are in fate’s hands. 

“If the artillery shell lands in our bunker, we’ll be wounded or we’ll die,” said Ar Mu.

“If we are lucky, we will be safe.”

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