The Burning of Thantlang, 2 Years On

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The Burning of Thantlang, 2 Years On

Since military attacks in September 2021, the town in Myanmar’s Chin State, close to the border with India, has become a ghost town.

The Burning of Thantlang, 2 Years On

The burning footage of Thantlang town in Myanmar’s Chin State on September 23, 2021, as captured by a drone camera.

Credit: Chin Human Rights Organization

September 23 marked the second anniversary of the Myanmar military’s brutal attack on Thantlang, a town in Chin State close to the country’s border with India. The assault, which saw junta troops set fire to much of the town and shoot dead a local pastor who attempted to extinguish the fires, forced around 10,000 inhabitants to flee toward the India-Myanmar border.

Located at 5,300 feet above sea level close, the town was until several decades ago known as Thlantlang, or “cemetery mountain” in the Chin language, after the hilltop cemetery that was established when our ancestors first settled there. In 1983, it was renamed Thantlang, “famous mountain,” with the purpose of bringing good fortune to the town. As my late grandfather used to say, “Our people chose to reside on this mountain for its formidable defense, neglecting the challenges of water and food scarcity.” Still, people managed to survive and even thrive there, and prior to the military’s attacks in 2021, Thantlang was home to around 10,000 people.

Today, however, Thantlang is a ghost town, with an estimated 100 Myanmar military personnel still stationed at an outpost inside the town, while resistance forces occupy the town’s outskirts. Over the past two years, there have been more than 100 armed battles between the Myanmar military and resistance groups around Thantlang, leading to an estimated death toll of 70 military personnel and at least 25 resistance fighters.

Rapid Militarization

According to the resistance’s recently established Thantlang Placement Affairs Committee, nearly all of the town’s 10,000 inhabitants are currently dispersed throughout 90 villages near the border with India, with the bulk residing in Bunkhua village (120 households), Salem village (145 households), and Hlamphei village (20 households). While the elderly struggle to adjust to life in the new environment, hot-blooded and energetic young people have sought revenge by joining various armed resistance groups. The majority have joined the newly formed Chinland Defense Force-Thantlang (CDF-Thantlang), while fewer have enlisted with the long-established Chin National Front/Army (CNF/A) and other tribal-based CDFs. According to the vice-chairman of the CDF-Thantlang, “nearly 40 percent of the youth, mostly between the ages of 18 and 25, are directly involved in armed groups and the rest are involved in various roles in CDF-Thantlang’s parallel administration body.” He added that “a few friends have left us for the country’s lowland region, where the conflict is less intense.”

The coup regime’s effort to intimidate the populace by torching the town and deploying violence has only inflamed the people’s desire to resist its rule. Thantlang township alone now has an estimated 1,500 resistance fighters, not to mention the growing power of other armed organizations. Prior to the coup, the CNA, the only Chin armed group, was reported to have fewer than 300 members, and it was widely regarded as one of the smallest armed groups.

The Parallel Administration

Since the coup brought the Myanmar military to power, resistance groups have carried out assassinations of village or ward administrators working for the regime’s Ministry of Home Affairs, and approximately 366 military-appointed administrators, mostly from Sagaing, Yangon, and Magway regions, have filed their resignations in nine months out of fear of death. In Chin State, where ethnic and religious identity plays a significant role, there have been no assassinations, and village administrators under resistance control have simply switched their allegiance, bolstering the parallel administration. Furthermore, Christian institutions, which have historically played a larger part in the public administration process, have aided the parallel administration.

The financial constraints have been a clear impediment to the successful functioning of the parallel administration. “When you don’t even have enough funding to equip all of your comrades, prioritizing motorway maintenance is a difficult choice,” stated the CDF-Thantlang’s vice chairman.

There is a large overseas diaspora originating from Thantlang, the result of decades of military oppression and economic adversity, a community that has significantly contributed to the operation of the parallel government body. According to Min Lian Thang, the chairman of the Thantlang Placement Affairs Committee, “almost the entire operation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) program is run through the support of the Chin diaspora community, and villagers who partake in providing required land for cultivation and erecting their shelters.”

He calculated that roughly $4 million has been spent on IDPs exclusively. On the educational front, the parallel administration’s Education Department has supported the education of almost 7,000 children in Thantlang township, from primary to high school. If one adds the Lautu, Mara, and Zophei regions, the number rises to 13,790 enrolled children and 1,155 teachers. “The education sector is almost entirely run by ourselves,” stated the chairman of the newly formed Local Curriculum and Textbook Committee. He continued, “On a more upbeat note, the textbooks have been decentralized, and we no longer feature the history of Myanmar military heroes like Anawratha, Bayinnaung, and Alaungpaya” – ethnic Bamar leaders famed for their conquests of the country’s ethnic minority regions.


Since late 2021, the coup regime, formally known as the State Administration Council, cut off the mobile communication network in the region, affecting over 50,000 inhabitants from 90 villages. As transport vehicles must pass through several toll gates and access to the region has been constrained, inflation has surged. According to one villager a bottle of water than once cost 150 kyats now costs 10 times as much. In addition to the challenges of inflation, the Myanmar military restricted the entry of drugs and medical equipment, most likely due to concerns about resistance members receiving medical care. According to a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) nurse, children in the region have not had sufficient access to vital vaccines since 2022. “Medical drugs need to be hidden to protect from the seizures,” she explained, “and sometimes it takes more than a month to order a specific drug item.”

In addition to the region’s economic calamities, there are also psychological issues. Older people have tended to suffer more psychological disorder because of the loss of valuable property, the uncertainty of returning, and the military’s persistent threat to bomb settlements. According to TAPC drone footage, the military has burned down 1,350 buildings in Thantlang, with many of the remaining ones likely requiring extensive repairs, should the people ever return. The entire loss from the infrastructure fire is estimated to be around $75 million, excluding valuable items such as jewelry that were left inside the buildings.

The annual regular death rate among the displaced has risen to over 120, local officials say, much higher than the rate prior to the coup. According to a nurse, “the high death toll indicates not only the difficulty of accessing medical care but also a psychological factor. Initially, there was only one hospital in a liberated area run by a doctor and three nurses.” She added, “I can deal with my tiredness, but my primary concern was not sleeping well at night for fear of an airstrike by the Myanmar military on the hospital.” In the absence of psychologists, religious leaders and pastors perform an essential role in counseling through preaching, as about 99.9 percent of the people are Christians.

What is Next?

“We don’t know, and it’s something we can’t answer,” said the vice chairman of the CDF-Thantlang, summing up his response to displaced residents, who frequently ask him when they will be able to return to town. “They are desperate for the return,” he continued, “but not under military rule.”

According to one local political analyst, the military dictatorship has punished civilians – by burning buildings, deliberately killing civilians, and bombing the region indiscriminately – as a way of putting pressure on their own resistance groups.

But far from succeeding, the military regime’s brutality has only further fueled the people’s rage, and driven the determination of local resistance groups. After launching over 100 attacks, including multiple drone strikes, resistance groups succeeded in capturing Thantlang’s police outpost in February 2023, but the battle over the military station in Thantlang continues. The battle for Thantlang town has now become a morally central battle of the Spring Revolution between the Myanmar military and resistance groups – one that demonstrates the regime’s durability, but could also provide one of the major success stories if the regime eventually collapses.