The continuing civil war in Myanmar has left a trail of death and destruction, and devastated towns and villages. The town of Thantlang, which I visited on February 2, 2023, has been reduced to a ghost town.
Nestled in the hills of western Myanmar’s Chin State is Thantlang, which epitomizes many facets of the conflict in Myanmar that erupted after the military or Sit-tat staged a coup on February 1, 2021, toppling the democratically elected National League for Democracy government.
Like many towns across the country, Thantlang was quick to organize a group called the Chinland Defense Force Thantlang (CDF Thantlang) against the Sit-tat. Clashes between the Myanmar forces and the CDF Thantlang began on September 19, 2021, and have continued intermittently, resulting in killings and burning of houses by the military.
The turmoil has compelled all the residents of the town to relocate to safer places in batches. They are lodged at the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Salen, Bungkhua, and Hlamphei in Chin State and in refugee camps in the Indian state of Mizoram, while some families have been accommodated by their relatives in the neighboring villages of Thantlang.
Data compiled by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) reveals that around 12,000 people, comprising the entire population of the town, have been displaced. As many as 131 residents have died so far – 13 from the attacks by the military and 118 after they relocated to safer places.
Thantlang has emerged as a frontline between the military and the resistance groups comprising the CDF Thantlang and the Chin National Army (CNA). Resistance fighters in the town who spoke to The Diplomat on February 2 claimed that there had been more than 25 aerial attacks on the town, but more than two-thirds of the area is under their effective control.
“Thantlang is strategic, and control over the town will give the military an edge in the war in Chin State. So, more attacks can be expected,” Dr. Sui Khar, vice chairman of the Chin National Front (CNF) told The Diplomat. CNF is the political front of the CNA, an ethnic armed organization and the biggest resistance group in Chin State.