The United States and Thailand are considering jointly providing humanitarian aid to Myanmar via the country’s border with Thailand, the Thai foreign ministry said Wednesday. The plan emerged from a two-day visit to Bangkok by U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet earlier this week, during which he met with the Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai and other senior officials and discussed the post-coup crisis in Myanmar.
“The two sides have discussed the situation in Myanmar, the handling of the matter by Thailand and ASEAN, and the feasibility of Thai-U.S. cooperation to provide people in Myanmar with humanitarian assistance – possibly handled via the Thai-Myanmar border,” Thai foreign ministry spokesperson Tanee Sankrat said at a press briefing, as reported by BenarNews.
The military’s seizure of power in February has pushed Myanmar toward nationwide conflict and economic collapse, worsening the country’s numerous and interlocking humanitarian crises. In its attempt to quash the rising resistance to its coup, the Myanmar security forces have murdered more than 1,100 people, arbitrarily detained more than 8,000, and forcibly displaced more than 230,000 civilians, bringing the total number of internally displaced persons in Myanmar to well over half a million, according to the United Nations.
In a press briefing Tuesday, U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said that “conflict, food insecurity, natural disasters and COVID-19” have left some three million women, children, and men in urgent need of life-saving assistance and protection. “This includes one million people who were in need at the start of the year, plus an additional two million people identified as needing help after the military takeover on 1 February,” he said.
The humanitarian crisis, which also includes the silent spread of COVID-19 throughout the country, has posed a thorny ethical dilemma for foreign governments and aid agencies. While the U.N. retains a presence within the country, many bilateral donors, including the United States, are reluctant to deliver aid through channels controlled by the military junta.
Moreover, those willing or able to operate within areas of the country controlled by the military face a host of increasingly stringent restrictions. Last month, Andrew Kirkwood, the acting U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar described a number of “significant operational challenges,” including travel and COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, in addition to the increasingly unstable political climate. Dan Sullivan of Refugees International told BenarNews this week that the junta “has been directly blocking aid getting into certain areas” and has created a host of “bureaucratic impediments” including travel authorizations and visa delays.
The Thai-Myanmar border remains a logical workaround, given the longstanding humanitarian presence in the region, which has experienced the backwash from decades of civil war and internal conflict in eastern Myanmar. Many of those displaced since the coup are also in areas adjacent to the Thai border, making it a convenient way of aiding those most in need.
At the same time, the border route will be limited in addressing the humanitarian upheavals that are quickly spreading to other regions of the country. The emergence in recent months of scores of civilian People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias, particularly in Chin State and Sagaing, Mandalay, and Magwe regions, has prompted fierce and disproportionate reprisals from the military, bringing fighting and displacement to regions of the country that have not seen conflict for many years.
The situation in these regions is only likely to worsen in the months to come. This week, veteran defense analyst Anthony Davis reported that the Tatmadaw is currently preparing for Operation Anawrahta, “a rolling series of separate but interlocking offensives” designed to rout the PDFs and other civilian militias from Chin, Sagaing, and Magwe. According to Davis, the aim of the dry season operation is “to reassert a strategic dominance long taken for granted but which week by week through mid-2021 has been slipping away, most alarmingly in the west.”
Gauging from how the Tatmadaw has conducted itself in its decades of campaigns against ethnic minority rebels, the country’s nationwide crisis is set to broaden and deepen over the short term, straining the capacity of those aid agencies inside the country and heightening the dilemma for those outside who wish to maximize their support to those most in need.