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After an incident in northern Myanmar, there is a fight for the truth

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Military presence and internet outages stymie efforts to learn more about the Chin state assault that burned scores of homes.

Thang Biak realised his house had burned down in Myanmar's northeastern Chin State after watching television news from India.

On September 14, he and his three sons and other locals evacuated Thantlang, a mountain community of about 8,000 people, crossing into Mizoram two weeks later.


"We couldn't bring anything with us when we fled."
"Now all of our property has been destroyed," said Thang Biak, who spoke to Al Jazeera under a false name to avoid military retaliation.
"I was so devastated when I found out my house had burned down that I couldn't sleep or eat," he continued.

On October 29, the military intensified its operations to root out the civilian armed groups that have emerged around the nation since the February 1 coup. His home was one of more than 160 residences and two church buildings in Thantlang that were burned down.


Governments, human rights organisations, and civil society organisations have all denounced the military and asked that it be held accountable for the destruction of Thantlang.

Last week, more than 500 organisations, including Human Rights Watch, signed a statement urging the UN Security Council to act quickly to "stop [the] Myanmar junta's terror campaign."


The US claimed the incident "underscores the critical need for the international community to hold the Burmese military accountable," and that it "lays bare the regime's total contempt for the lives and wellbeing of the people of Burma."

However, as cries for military responsibility grow louder, individuals gathering and sharing evidence of what happened in Thantlang confront a slew of dangers and impediments, including the threat of detention or reprisal, as well as a prolonged internet blackout.
Because Thantlang's population fled earlier waves of violence in September, and the town has been controlled by soldiers, local sources told Al Jazeera that they have been unable to locate witnesses.


“We journalists were unable to travel to document ourselves...
Salai Zing, who works for a Chin State-based media organisation and demanded that Al Jazeera refer to him by his nickname, said, "We couldn't acquire [sufficient] evidence and communication has been cut off."

Before the coup, there had been no combat in the isolated, mountainous territory along Myanmar's northeastern border with India in years.
Despite the fact that the Chin National Front, an ethnic armed organisation founded in 1988, is based in the area, the group signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in 2015 and has not engaged with the military since.


Since May, however, the country's northwest has been a hotbed of armed resistance, with many of the country's most ferocious anti-coup citizen defence units launching coordinated strikes against the military with the Chin National Front's armed wing.

In response, the military has blasted residential areas and hampered food and relief transport, using measures it has used for decades to undermine ethnic armed groups' support bases.


Since May, more than 37,000 people from Chin State and neighbouring Sagaing and Magway regions have become internally displaced, with another 15,000 fleeing to India, according to the United Nations, which estimates that 223,000 people have been displaced across the country since the coup.

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