Interview: ‘I Haven’t Seen Airstrikes in Karen State For Over 20 Years.’

David Eubank is the director of Free Burma Rangers. Self-described as “a multi-ethnic humanitarian service movement working to bring help, hope and love to people in the conflict areas of Burma,” the organization trains “Ranger teams” to work together with pro-democracy groups to deliver emergency medical care, food, shelter and clothing to those in need.

The group also documents the human rights situation in Myanmar. After the military took over the country and ousted the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party on Feb. 1, it began a brutal crackdown on the resulting nationwide protests and the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).

In southern Myanmar’s Karen state, the junta escalated its campaign against the Karen National Union with airstrikes on territory controlled by the insurgent group. The airstrikes caused thousands to flee across the Thai border, some of whom were turned away by Thai authorities according to activists and local media reports.

RFA interviewed Eubank to learn more about how the Rangers are providing humanitarian assistance in Karen state. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: What is the situation on the ground right now?

The latest situation right now is that there are more and more airstrikes. Today there was also another airstrike down in the south-central part of the northern part of Karen state which is on the borders of Mutraw or Hpapun district and Nyaunglebin district and Thaton district.

It killed six people, wounded 11. And there are air strikes every day in northern Karen state now. We have over 12,000 displaced people, and the need is food and medicine and shelter. But we are already sending it in. We have some ways, it’s not easy, but we may have been able to get food to everyone so far. I don’t know about the future. And we need to get more tarps in, though, for shelter, as people are hiding in the jungle.

RFA: How are you helping refugees who are turned away at the Thai border?

In terms of people who can’t cross the border that’s mostly just the people who are on the Salween River. We today were able to send some help through some quiet ways for them.

The biggest need of the refugees is safety from the Burma Army. They need the Burma Army to stop attacking them. If the Burma Army doesn’t attack them, they don’t need our help at all. They can grow their own food, live in their own house, do everything. In fact, they can do it much better than us, and they usually help us when we’re in there.

RFA: What is it that the refugees urgently need?

So the number one thing is stopping the Burma army, and our request is that the U.S. and international community would provide direct humanitarian assistance to all the armed groups’ humanitarian wings, as well as to the demonstrators and civil disobedience movement in the cities.

The second is to recognize the ethnic groups and to support working dialogue and unified operations between the Burmans in the cities and plains, and the ethnics in the hills. That will help them work together better. It will also be a signal to the regime that the U.S. and the international community is allying itself not with them but with a shadow government like the CRPH [Committee Representing Pyithu Hluttaw] and the NLD, as well as the ethnics and the CDM, and then the other is intervention, and that is helping the ethnic people and other people defend themselves or directly coming in and having the Burma Army stop attacking so we can negotiate this.

Right now, there’s no negotiations, just a full-on attack, so the situation is worse than it’s been in 20 years. The airstrikes have increased. They’re also at nighttime.

I have not seen nighttime airstrikes before. So that means the Burma military has a more deadly capacity. It has more foreign support. I don’t know from who. Russia, China I don’t know. But it’s definitely improved. I haven’t seen airstrikes in Karen state for over 20 years, we’ve seen them in Arakan [Rakine] and in Kachin but not Karen recently, so this is new.

We feel the attacks will continue, and not just in northern Karen state.

We feel the attacks will continue, and not just in northern Karen state there are attacks down in south central Karen state, Dooplaya [Kawkareik] district, south of Mae Sot, [Thailand] southwest of Mae Sot, inside Burma and also in the board of the plains near Kyaukkyi, and in Kachin state there is fighting every day, and displacement also in northern Shan state.

Source: Radio Free Asia