New

Myanmar military adopts ‘four cuts’ to stamp out coup opponents

The tactic targets civilians in bid to stifle support for resistance fighters, but appears to be backfiring.

Protesters in Sagaing region hold a demonstration against the coup. Many say the military's brutal tactics have only stiffened their resolve [Facebook via AFP]
Protesters in Sagaing region hold a demonstration against the coup. Many say the military’s brutal tactics have only stiffened their resolve [Facebook via AFP]

By Emily Fishbein, Nu Nu Lusan and Vahpual5 Jul 2021

On May 24 in Myanmar’s Kachin State, 13-year-old Awng Di walked over to his aunt’s house about noontime to feed her chickens. Thirty minutes later, heavy artillery crashed through the chicken coop; Awng Di died before reaching the nearby clinic.

“Our family has never been involved in politics … We’re just trying to survive,” Awng Di’s mother told Al Jazeera. “Now, I want to curse [the military soldiers] every time I see them.”KEEP READINGWhat is the Myanmar military’s ‘four cuts’ strategy?Myanmar military kills at least 25 people in raid on central townUS sanctions 22, including Myanmar ministers, for military coupUN calls on Myanmar’s military to release Aung San Suu Kyi

Momauk township, where Awng Di was from, has been the site of clashes between the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, and the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of an ethnic armed organisation, since April. The uptick in violence in Momauk and other parts of Kachin State has displaced more than 11,000 people, according to UN estimates.

The clashes in Momauk mark a broader escalation in fighting across the country since the February 1 military coup, as decades-long conflicts between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed organisations in Myanmar’s border areas resume or accelerate, and civilian defence forces emerge in townships that had not previously seen fighting.

In response to the increase in armed resistance, the Tatmadaw has launched indiscriminate air and ground strikes on civilian areas, displacing 230,000 people since the coup. Security forces have also looted and burned homes, blocked aid access and the transport of relief items, restricted water supplies, cut telecommunications networks, shelled places of refuge, and killed and arrested volunteers seeking to deliver humanitarian assistance.

According to Naw Htoo Htoo, program director of the Karen Human Rights Group, the Tatmadaw’s patterns of violence since the coup mark the continuation of a strategy known as four cuts, which the military began using in Karen State in the 1960s and has since deployed against civilian populations in other ethnic minority areas.https://75f40f29899a48054910c10351bc7297.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“[The Tatmadaw] doesn’t use the words ‘four cuts’ any more, but the strategy is definitely the same as the four cuts that they used on ethnic people for over 70 years,” said Naw Htoo Htoo.

Through means including restricting access to food, funds, intelligence and recruits, the strategy seeks to starve the support base of armed resistance and turn civilians against resistance groups.

In addition to Karen State, the armed forces have also used the strategy in areas including Kachin and Rakhine states, most notoriously in northern Rakhine State in 2017 when its ‘clearance operations’ sent hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim Rohingya fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.

According to Kim Jolliffe, an independent researcher focused on security and conflict in Myanmar, the four cuts strategy “treats civilians not just as ‘collateral damage’ but as a central resource in the battlefield.

“They are targeted directly with extreme violence and see their livelihoods intentionally destroyed so that armed groups cannot find sanctuary and civilian support,” he told Al Jazeera.