Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, is confronting its most formidable challenge in over two years since seizing power. Facing a substantial threat, the military junta is engaged in a significant struggle against united ethnic rebel factions seeking to regain control of the nation’s border towns.
In an unprecedented move, various well-armed rebel groups have allied to challenge the junta, aiming to reinstate democratic governance. The escalating violence has triggered a mass exodus of people to neighboring countries, amplifying internal unrest on the global stage.
You can also read: MYANMAR REBELS CAPTURE VITAL BORDER TOWN
Since the Tatmadaw’s coup in February 2021, ethnic rebel groups primarily situated in Myanmar’s peripheries have organized armed resistance against the junta. In recent offensives, these rebels have seized nearly a hundred outposts in the northern regions, including key cities and vital trade routes.
Suggested Infographic: Ethnic Demographic Map of Myanmar.
Myanmar has always been embroiled in ethnic conflicts since 1948. Initially these conflicts were mostly ethnic in origin. Larger rebel movements formed after the 1962 Burmese coup d’état. These rebel movements eventually grew into large militias.
On September 2021, in response to the junta’s crackdown on coup protesters, the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) formed. These forces have united with other pre-existing factions and launched a major offensive against the Myanmar military. The Three Brotherhood Alliance of the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, has since gained ground against the ruling junta.
The government is losing ground as the rebels’ chip away at an extremely stretched out Myanmar military (Tatmadaw). With one article reporting that as much as 50% of the nation may be under the control of rebel forces.
Things have become so dire that the military-installed-President Myint Swe has warned that the country is in danger of breaking apart, saying that Myanmar would “split into various parts” if the government “did not effectively manage the incidents happening in the border region.”
These developments indicate that the Myanmar, as a nation, is in serious risk of disintegration as various ethnic groups may carve up the country into their own spheres of influence.
Rebels have seized 8,000 square kilometers in four coordinated attacks. The first, “Operation 1027” on October 27, involved the “Three Brotherhood Alliance” (Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Taeng National Liberation Army, and Arakan Army) in Northern Shan State.
A second offensive, ‘Operation 1107’ on November 7, saw Karenni resistance forces capturing military bases in southeastern Kayah state to liberate Kayah State and advance on Pyinmana. Notably, the Arakan Army violated a ceasefire agreement with the Tatmadaw in their Rakhine state offensive last Monday. Simultaneously, the Chinese resistance occupied additional territories, marking a significant development in their effective fight against the military junta.
Is This The Junta’s Downfall?
Signs suggest that resistance forces have virtually taken control of all border areas, with the military, or Tatmadaw, appearing to lose its grip. Media reports reveal that 447 junta operatives in various states and regions, including northern Shan, Kaya, Chin, Rakhine, Mon, Sagaing, and Magwe, have surrendered in recent weeks.
The next crucial phase hinges on ethnic resistance forces challenging Myanmar’s heartland, especially north of Mandalay. The question looms: will these victories encourage broader opposition, posing a serious threat to the military government?
The Defense Minister of the civilian National Unity Government, U Yi Man, hints at a coordinated nationwide strategy for deterrence operations. Meanwhile, the widening conflict exacerbates the humanitarian crisis for local populations, with displacement camps now targeted by junta airstrikes.
Reports suggest the military government may not send reinforcements to areas under attack. As the pro-democracy ethnic insurgency gains momentum, the junta is expected to retreat to Naypyidaw, aiming to maintain control over major centers like Yangon, the financial capital. The government’s arrests, numbering around 20,000 and growing daily, underscore the intensifying struggle.
Spillover Effect And Consequences For Bangladesh
In the past, whenever there’s been a conflict that has escalated in Myanmar, neighboring countries have seen a surge of refugees. The last surge in violence saw more than a million Rohingya refugees flee to Bangladesh. While the Bangladeshi government has not turned these refugees away due to humanitarian reasons; the massive refugee population has put an immense toll on the nation’s infrastructure and economy.
In, 2019, a panel of experts estimated that Bangladesh is burdened by $1.2 billion dollars a year for supporting the Rohingya refugees. This cost has likely gone up in 2023. The consequential damage to the ecosystem, forest and impact on communities is not included in this. A study in 2022 suggested that food prices around Rohingya camps went up as much as 8-13%. The increase in crime rates is also a concern.
The recent escalation in violence may not only see a further refugee crisis, but the conflict itself may spill over to the Bangladeshi side if the Rohingya refugee population decided to get involved in the conflict. Bangladesh therefore, needs a strong and vigilant government that can handle this crisis. The current government, lead by The Bangladesh Awami League, is singularly qualified and experienced in this regard.