Mud-soaked residents scuffle with officials trying to demolish their homes

Pleading for help from the mud, residents scuffled with authorities in Cambodia’s capital on Tuesday as they tried to block machinery brought in to demolish their homes to make way for a planned high-rise development.

“I can’t live without my house! I used to cultivate rice during the dry season, but now they say I occupied the land illegally, and they will confiscate it,” cried a woman named Kong Toeur while sitting in waist-deep muddy water.

“All children must know this pain!” she shouted. “This is Cambodia law.” 

Another villager, Tim Ouk, said the villagers had done nothing wrong. “Authorities must stop all machinery from destroying our houses,” she said.

Such land disputes are common in Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries as authorities seek land on which to build apartment buildings and shopping malls.

In this case, authorities have been looking for ways to evict food vendors and residents from the area next to Ta Mok Lake in Phnom Penhl’s Preaek Phnov district. 

The lake is the city’s largest, with a total area of more than 3,240 hectares (8,000 acres). Hundreds of hectares of Ta Mok Lake have already been filled in to pave the way for the development projects.

About 200 families are asking authorities to set aside four hectares of land from the development where they can live.

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

Laos to build one of Southeast Asia’s largest wind power farms

Laos will construct one of Southeast Asia’s largest wind power farms near the Vietnamese border, government officials told Radio Free Asia, as part of its ambitious goal to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia.”

Authorities say the US$2.16 billion project will have limited impact on the environment – much less than the many dams that Laos is also building, which have displaced entire villages and devastated riparian ecosystems.

But some local officials and residents expressed concern about deforestation and loss of farmland, and called for more impact studies.

The 1,200-megawatt project by the Savan Vayu Renewable Energy Co. will break ground near Lako village in Sepon District in the southern province of  Savannakhet. It will cover an area of 28,513 hectares, or about 110 square miles, which will be dotted with wind turbines by 2026, according to the plan.

When completed, it will be much larger than the 600-megawatt Monsoon Wind Project, also in Laos.

A district-level official of the Office of Energy and Mines said the area where the turbines will be built is rugged and that residents would be unaffected.

“The wind power farm will be located on top of the mountain, far away, about 20 kilometers [12 miles] from the village,” said the official, who like all sources in this report requested anonymity for personal safety reasons. “It won’t create any serious impact on the people. There will be no relocation of people.”


But another district-level official from the Office of Agriculture and Forestry voiced reservations.

“If the company is going to build a wind power farm in the area, all the trees will be cut and all the forest will be destroyed,” he said. “On this issue, the feasibility study has not been detailed enough.”

A province-level official of the Natural Resources and Environment Department called for the government and the developer to exercise caution and perform an adequate impact assessment.

“People are going to lose a lot of farmland,” he said. “To avoid any problems or any conflict in the future, a well elaborated assessment is needed. We should do it right now. If not, it’ll be more difficult to solve later.”


Residents had mixed feelings. One person said many people in the area support the project because it won’t affect the environment too much.

“We want to see the country develop and have enough power,” a resident said. “I think it is easy to build a wind power farm. The company just installs wind turbines along the Vietnamese border and that’s that.”

But a resident of Lako village said that more transparency was necessary.

“I know that the feasibility study on the project has been completed, but the potential impact on the environment and people are not publicly known,” the Lako resident said. “Right now, we don’t even know how much forest and how many people will be affected.”

Selling electricity to Vietnam

Construction on the project has not yet begun, an official from the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines said.

“The company needs to have the power purchase agreement first before it can start construction,” the official said. “Most of the electricity produced by the project will be sold to Vietnam. I think the company might begin the construction of the basic infrastructure first.”

Laos and Vietnam have however signed an agreement in 2016 specifying that between 2020 and 2030 Laos will sell 5,000 megawatts of power to Vietnam.

RFA Lao reported in September that the Lao government also greenlighted a project for a Thailand-based company, to develop a 1,000-megawatt wind power farm in Sekong Province, also in southern Laos.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam’s central province of Quang Tri, the Hai Anh Wind Project signed an agreement with a Chinese developer to accept delivery of wind turbines by March, and for installation to be completed by November.

The Hai Anh Wind Project is one of around 30 such projects approved by Vietnam for Quang Tri’s mountainous Huong Hoa district. It covers 855 hectares (3 square miles) with an output of 40 megawatts.

Translated by Max Avary and An Nguyen. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

Exclusive: Chinese authorities release dozens of Tibetans arrested for dam protests

Around 40 Tibetans have been released from among more than 1,000 people arrested by Chinese police for protesting a dam project that could submerge ancient monasteries in a Tibetan-populated township of southwestern China’s Sichuan province, sources from inside Tibet told Radio Free Asia.

Chinese authorities released about 20 monks each on Monday and Tuesday, said the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity for safety reasons. 

They were among a large group of monks arrested from Wonto Monastery, the sources said. However, after their release, authorities imposed strict restrictions on their contact with the outside world, the sources added. 

On Feb. 23, police arrested more than 1,000 Tibetans, including monks and residents, of Dege county in Sichuan’s Kardze Autonomous Tibetan Prefecture, who had been peacefully protesting the construction of the Gangtuo Dam.

If built, the structure could submerge monasteries in Dege’s Wangbuding township and force residents of at least two villages near the Drichu River to relocate, sources told RFA. 

The fate of the monasteries on both sides of the Drichu, or Jinsha in Chinese, has been at the center of the protests staged since Feb. 14 by Buddhist monks and local Tibetans, who have expressed distress at the expected destruction of the centuries-old religious institutions, including Wonto Monastery, which dates back to the 13th century. 

“One of the main reasons for the release of the Tibetans is the growing media coverage abroad of the mass arrests that have taken place,” one source told RFA.

Some of the arrested Tibetans were beaten during the interrogations and later had to be admitted to the hospital. They were also informed individually at the hospital that they would be allowed to return to the monasteries on Wednesday, the same source said. 

But authorities forbade them to communicate with outsiders, the sources said.

After the arrest of a number of monks from Wonto on Feb. 22 and Feb. 23, authorities prohibited all religious activities within the monastery, a second source said. 

Chinese police have also imposed strict restrictions on the movement of monks to and from the various monasteries located on both sides of the Drichu River, the same person said.

Monastery murals

Besides the Wonto Monastery, the Yena and Khardho monasteries in Wangbuding on the east bank of the Drichu River and the Rabten, Gonsar, Tashi and Pharok monasteries in the Tibetan Autonomous Region on the west bank of the river may be affected by the building of the dam.

At China’s 8th International Academic Symposium on Tibetan Archaeology and Art in Hangzhou in December 2023, postgraduate student Yao Ruiyi warned in a study that the hydropower station “will cause greater difficulties in the subsequent preservation and research of the Wangdui Temple murals,” using another name for the Wonto Monastery.

“Therefore, the research and protection of Wangdui Temple murals is urgent,” the study said.

Wonto Monastery, which dates back to the 13th century, would likely be flooded by the dam project on the Drichu River in Dege county, southwestern China's Sichuan province. (Citizen journalist)
Wonto Monastery, which dates back to the 13th century, would likely be flooded by the dam project on the Drichu River in Dege county, southwestern China’s Sichuan province. (Citizen journalist)

The Gangtuo Dam is part of a plan that China’s National Development and Reform Commission announced in 2012 to build a massive 13-tier hydropower complex on the Drichu. It would be located at Wontok (or Gangtuo, in Chinese) in Dege county, northwest of Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The total planned capacity of the 13 hydropower stations is 13,920 megawatts. 

Foreign outcry

Representatives of the U.S. and Canadian governments as well as global rights groups and Tibetan advocacy groups have condemned China’s arrest of the 1,000 dam protesters, calling for the immediate release of those detained and for the preservation of the cultural, religious and linguistic identity of Tibetans.

In a post to the social media network X on Monday, the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China condemned “the reported violent repression of peaceful protests against the planned destruction of 2 villages and 6 monasteries by a hydropower dam project,” referring to RFA’s report on the mass arrests.

Those detained must be released and the PRC must protect the cultural heritage of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries,” the Commission said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

A day earlier, Uzra Zeya, the U.S. under secretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights and U.S. special coordinator for Tibetan Issues, also posted a message to X noting that the centuries-old monasteries “are home to hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist monks and contain irreplaceable cultural relics.”

“The U.S. stands with Tibetans in preserving their unique cultural, religious, and linguistic identity,” she wrote. 

RFA reported on Feb. 15 that at least 300 Tibetans gathered outside Dege County Town Hall to protest the building of the Gangtuo Dam. 

Tibetans in exile have been holding mass demonstrations in various parts of the world, including Dharamsala, India – home to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama – and  New York, Zurich and Toronto.

Additional reporting by Pelbar, Kelsang Dolma and Tenzin Dickyi for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Joshua Lipes.

Cambodian court denies opposition leader’s incitement conviction appeal

Cambodia’s Appeals Court on Tuesday upheld a criminal conviction and three-year prison sentence for Candlelight Party Vice President Thach Setha.

The opposition figure was arrested in January 2023 and prosecuted for comments he made about the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s historical ties to Vietnam and the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument that was built in Phnom Penh in 1979. 

In October, he was convicted of incitement to provoke social chaos and discrimination. 

Representatives from human rights organizations, the United Nations and the European Union attended Tuesday’s appeal hearing, along with Thach Setha’s family.

“What he said was political speech and not a crime,” his lawyer, Choung Chou Ngy, told Radio Free Asia. “Thach Setha said what he said based on history. He didn’t incite.”

Thach Setha’s arrest in early 2023 was seen as part of a months-long campaign of intimidation and threats against opposition leaders and activists ahead of last July’s general election, which was swept by the CPP.

Thach Setha’s Candlelight Party – the country’s main opposition party – was not allowed to compete in the election. The National Election Committee cited inadequate paperwork in ruling last May that it couldn’t appear on the ballot.

‘Based on history’

In a separate case, Thach Setha was found guilty in September on a false check charge that was criticized as politically motivated by human rights groups and party officials. A judge sentenced him to 18 months in prison for that conviction.

In the incitement case, the appeals court judges announced on Tuesday that they agreed that Thach Setha’s comments were criminal. 

Thach Setha has argued that his comments were based on a history book that Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1978 created a fragile national unity.

His wife, Thach Sokborany, told RFA that the judges ignored the evidence submitted that showed that her husband was only speaking about real events. 

“My husband only made comments based on history and books,” she told RFA. “But the court is politically influenced.”

RFA was unable to reach Appeals Court Judge Khun Leang Meng for comment. 

Choung Chou Ngy said he will discuss with Thach Setha about possibly filing another appeal to the Supreme Court. 

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

Displaced people in Rakhine state jumps 5-fold since truce ended

Nearly 270,000 people have fled fighting in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state over the past three months since the ethnic Arakan Army ended a truce with the military, causing the number of those displaced by conflict in the region to jump more than five-fold, according to the AA.

Rakhine state has been the center of intense clashes since the AA ended a ceasefire in November that had been in place since the military seized power in Myanmar in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat. Junta troops have suffered heavy losses on the battlefield while the AA has gone on to capture six townships in the state.

The Humanitarian and Development Coordination Office of the United League of Arakan/Arakan Army said that 268,731 people fled fighting in Rakhine from Nov. 13 to Feb. 13, bringing to more than 330,000 the number displaced by conflict in the state from 62,332 before the end of the ceasefire.

They were displaced from 14 townships, the report said, including Sittwe, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Minbya, and Pauktaw – areas that have seen some of the heaviest fighting in the state. More than 100,000 people were displaced from Pauktaw alone in the three-month period, the AA said.

An aid worker in Myebon township who, like others interviewed for this report, asked to remain anonymous due to security concerns told RFA Burmese that residents were compelled to flee amid intense bombardment by the military.

“Heavy weaponry rained down upon the villages, reducing homes to ashes,” he said. “As a consequence, our villagers no longer feel safe within our own territories and have sought refuge elsewhere … They are being sheltered by family members.”

The displaced are sheltering in villages and monasteries far away from the fighting, and lack access to adequate food and water, he said.

A resident of northern Rakhine state told RFA that most of the people who fled from cities to rural areas are facing a worsening food shortage.

“The urban population in Rakhine state outnumbers the rural population,” he said. “In the past, they went from the village to the city to escape war. But now, they are fleeing from the towns to rural areas. They are encountering challenges, and there are instances where access to food is also being disrupted.”

‘Situation remains dire’

According to the AA, at least 111 civilians were killed and 357 injured by military artillery, aerial and naval fire, and landmines in the three months of fighting. Junta authorities also arrested at least 292 civilians during the period, it said.

Residents of Rakhine told RFA that the injured only have access to medical care in more remote rural villages, and that some patients are being cared for by AA personnel.

Displaced people walk down a road in Pauktaw township, Rakhine state on Nov. 16, 2023. (RFA)
Displaced people walk down a road in Pauktaw township, Rakhine state on Nov. 16, 2023. (RFA)

They also claimed that the more junta troops suffer losses on the battlefield, the more they have targeted civilians, leading to more casualties and displacement.

“I have witnessed instances of torture and the junta is increasingly arresting innocent people,” said one resident who has been monitoring the military situation in the state. “In addition, junta troops frequently deploy heavy weaponry. That’s why these people are scared and run away.”

“The situation remains dire, with an increasing exodus of people seeking safety,” he said.

Attempts by RFA to contact State Attorney General Hla Thein, the junta’s spokesperson for Rakhine state, for a response to the AA’s report and claims by residents went unanswered Tuesday.

Since the end of the ceasefire, the AA has captured seven townships, including Pauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Myebon, and Taung Pyo in Rakhine state, as well as Paletwa in neighboring Chin state.

The AA is currently engaged in an offensive against junta battalions in the Rakhine townships of Ramree, Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, and Ponnagyun.

Translated by Kalyar Lwin. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

Operation 1027 moves Myanmar civil war closer to a tipping point

Feb. 27 marks four months since the launch of Operation 1027, a game-changing offensive against the Myanmar military regime by the Three Brotherhood Alliance of ethnic armies in the north of the country. 

The alliance of three ethnic resistance organizations – the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army (AA) – had been broadly supportive of the National Unity Government (NUG), the shadow opposition. 

But it was not formally allied with the nationwide opposition network, and until late-2023, the three rebel armies fought the Myanmar military only in self-defense. 

However, four months of Three Brotherhood attacks across the north and west of the country have rendered the military junta incapable of achieving its goals as it enters the fourth year after its February 2021 coup in a very weak situation. 

People stand in line to get visas at the Thai embassy in Yangon on Feb. 16, 2024 after Myanmar's military government said it would implement military conscription. (AFP)
People stand in line to get visas at the Thai embassy in Yangon on Feb. 16, 2024 after Myanmar’s military government said it would implement military conscription. (AFP)

The State Administrative Council (SAC), as the junta is formally known, controls significantly less territory than it did prior to Oct. 27, 2023. Militarily, the junta has relied on air assaults and long-range artillery strikes, which is sufficient to terrorize unarmed civilian populations, but insufficient to hold territory. 

Junta troops continue to sow fear through acts of utter barbarity, including burning POWs alive. But the military government is unable to deliver basic social services, and healthcare and education have withered even in the regions that are still under military control. 

The junta is scrambling to reverse its losses. But manpower is an issue for the military that is spread thin across at least seven distinct battle scapes. An estimated 21,000 troops have been lost and unit-level defections are increasing.

In a sign of just how dire their manpower shortage is, on Feb. 10, the junta invoked the Conscription Law, passed in 2010 but never implemented. 

Draft sparks exodus

The SAC has announced its intention to conscript some 5,000 people a month in a policy that will affect as many as 14 million people, including all males between 18 and 35 and women between the ages of 18 and 27.

The draft for an unpopular civil war has already sparked an exodus to Thailand. In the first week, 7,000 people applied for visas and, in one instance, a stampede in front of the Thai consulate in Mandalay left two women dead.

Likewise, people are fleeing to territory controlled by the opposition NUG and ethnic resistance armies. Fleeing also entails the risk of the military dragooning people at checkpoints.

While conscription is a sign of weakness, it should also be seen as a sign of just how far the military junta will go to cling to power. 

An unexploded projectile juts from the roof of a house following fighting between Myanmar's military and the Kachin Independence Army in Nam Hpat Kar, Kutkai township in Myanmar's northern Shan State, Feb. 4, 2024. (AFP)
An unexploded projectile juts from the roof of a house following fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Kachin Independence Army in Nam Hpat Kar, Kutkai township in Myanmar’s northern Shan State, Feb. 4, 2024. (AFP)

The battlefield situation is more complex, with advances and setbacks.

Violence has declined significantly in northern Shan State, where Three Brotherhood members the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army continue to abide by a Chinese-brokered ceasefire. Both are focused on restoring social services and governance in the 16 towns they captured during Operation 1027.

The junta continues to hold the frontier trading town of Muse, but the highway to the Chinese border is now controlled by the Three Brotherhood Alliance, which has allowed trade to resume, while taxing it. 

This added tax, along with skirmishes on the highway to Mandalay, has led to a significant decline in border trade. Myanmar Now reported a 20% decrease in exports to China through Muse between April 2023 and February, to $1.8 billion. In mid-February, the governor of Yunnan province traveled to Naypyidaw to discuss border issues with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.

Opposition tensions

Skirmishes have erupted between the junta army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a rebel group that is not bound by the ceasefire. 

But more concerning for the opposition are tensions between the KIA and TNLA. Ostensibly the ethnic armies are allies, and the TNLA was originally established with the support of the KIA. But despite formal relations, there is friction on the ground with the KIA operating in Ta’ang-dominated towns. The NUG must move quickly to resolve this fraternal dispute.

The KIA recently captured three towns in Kachin State, but has focused more on targeting isolated junta army outposts.

In Kayah State, the Karenni People’s Defense Forces and Karenni Army continue to make advances at the regime’s expense. On Feb. 15 they completed their takeover of Shadaw, leaving little left in Kayah under junta control.

Debris lies scattered around a damaged statue of Buddha following fighting between Myanmar's military and the Kachin Independence Army in Nam Hpat Kar, Kutkai township in Myanmar's northern Shan State, Feb. 4, 2024. (AFP)
Debris lies scattered around a damaged statue of Buddha following fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Kachin Independence Army in Nam Hpat Kar, Kutkai township in Myanmar’s northern Shan State, Feb. 4, 2024. (AFP)

Sensing military weakness, some ethnic armies are bandwagoning with the NUG in areas that have not experienced much violence. In Mon state, there was a rift within the junta-affiliated Mon State Army, with younger members aligning themselves with the NUG. 

Amid a ceasefire in northern Shan state, fighting has spread to southern Shan state, where small pro-junta ethnic armies are increasingly vulnerable without military support.

The Arakan Army’s offensive in Rakhine has been the most consequential. It now controls five of 17 townships – Pauktaw, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, and Myebon – in addition to the river transport hub of Paletwa in neighboring Chin state, leaving the juntA in control of only three Rakhine towns.

Nine townships around the port of Kyaukphyu – in particular, Rathedaung, Ramree, and Maungdaw – are being contested and have seen intensified air assaults. The military restricted boat traffic and blocked air travel as people sought to flee the Rakhine state capital Sittwe. 

Humiliating junta setbacks

The AA sunk or captured four naval vessels. While not warships, these landing craft are essential for military troop movements, especially as the AA consolidates power along Rakhine’s roadways.

Since Operation 1027 began, the military has only recaptured one of the nearly 30 towns it lost. 

The junta experienced a humiliating setback in Kawlin, Sagaing, the first of the 330 townships that opposition People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) captured. 

In a blow that carries heavy symbolism because it happened in the ethnic majority Bamar heartland, the NUG took control of five banks in Kawlin, appropriating 44 billion kyat (US$20.9 million) for the revolution.

The military amassed 1,000 troops and militiamen and used air assets and artillery to bomb defensive positions. After two weeks of fighting, the army retook the city. For days, satellite photographs showed large swaths of the town being burned in retribution. 

Protesters step on images of Myanmar junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during a demonstration outside the UN office in Bangkok on Feb. 1, 2024, to mark the third anniversary of the coup in Myanmar. (Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)
Protesters step on images of Myanmar junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during a demonstration outside the UN office in Bangkok on Feb. 1, 2024, to mark the third anniversary of the coup in Myanmar. (Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)

The military views losses in Shan, Rakhine or Chin States as temporary setbacks that can be dealt with at a later time. Restoring control over the Bamar heartland remains their priority.

Despite the loss of Kawlin, the NUG continues to control three smaller towns in Sagaing, and is trying to implement a “people’s administrative system” based on recruiting former staff who have joined the civil disobedience movement. 

Surprisingly, the junta has hung together despite the setbacks. A series of dismissals and arrests of senior officers that began in late 2023 as the leadership hunted for scapegoats for military failure has not resulted in revolt or generals searching for an exit.


Min Aung Hlaing and his deputy Soe Win still have their jobs. In part, their purges have kept others off guard. But it could be that no one else wants the job: If the SAC is going down in flames, better that Min Aung Hlaing be the pilot.

Tipping point lies ahead

The opposition still has a lot of work to do. Resources remain tight for the NUG. Funds long promised by western governments, including the U.S., have not materialized. And they now have more territory to administer.

The NUG has taken advantage of the military’s reversals, and stepped up their diplomatic and lobbying efforts, including high profile meetings around the Munich Security Conference. 

But the international community continues to withhold recognition of the NUG or has not given them adequate support, while still engaging the military regime.

Bangladesh authorities escort Myanmar nationals and Border Guard Police personnel, who fled into Bangladesh to seek shelter, back to their country by boat at Cox's Bazar on Feb. 15, 2024. (AFP)
Bangladesh authorities escort Myanmar nationals and Border Guard Police personnel, who fled into Bangladesh to seek shelter, back to their country by boat at Cox’s Bazar on Feb. 15, 2024. (AFP)

Bangladesh returned some 370 soldiers, policemen, and other civilians who had fled across the border in an utterly humiliating ceremony. Although Dhaka continues to work with Naypyidaw, they’re still bitter about the 2017 pogroms against the Rohingya, which drove one million refugees into Bangladesh, where a crisis festers. They enjoy rubbing salt in the junta’s wounds.

Thailand announced the opening of an ASEAN humanitarian corridor to the border, but this should be viewed with significant skepticism. At the very least it should not be seen as a shift in Thai policy. Prime Minister Srettha Thavsin continues to engage the junta and has pushed ASEAN to do so as well.

ASEAN still sees the military regime as having a seat at the table in any negotiated settlement. However, neither the NUG nor their ethnic army partners do. And with their continued success on the battlefield, they are looking for the unconditional surrender of the military.

They’re not at a tipping point yet, but Operation 1027 has given the opposition forces the upper hand, and the campaign has put victory well out of the hands of the military.

Zachary Abuza is a professor at the National War College in Washington and an adjunct at Georgetown University. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Defense, the National War College, Georgetown University or Radio Free Asia.