Updated: November 20, 2023 12:48 PM GMT
This handout from the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF) shows a member of its female special forces at a base camp in the forest near Demoso in Myanmar's eastern Kayah state on May 24, 2022. (Photo: KNDF /AFP)
Myanmar’s illegal, brutal, criminal military dictatorship is currently facing its biggest challenge since it stole power in a coup d’état in February 2021.
Its hold on power is precarious and the alliance of armed resistance groups is gaining ground. While it would be premature to make predictions of the junta’s downfall, now is the time for the international community to step up to support the courageous efforts to dislodge Min Aung Hlaing and his bloody cabal from power.
Over the past few weeks, an alliance of three ethnic armed groups in Shan state has successfully driven the Myanmar army and police out of large areas along the border with China. At least three key towns in Shan state are now in control of anti-regime groups, including the key border town of Chinshwehaw.
The armed groups' audacious actions have emboldened the country’s other armed resistance groups.
As things stand today, the junta has lost control of much of the border with India, as towns in Chin state along the India border, notably Rikhawdar, have been recaptured by resistance groups, and rebels are advancing against Loikaw, the capital of Kayah (Karenni) state and have already captured the university.
The “Brotherhood Alliance” — consisting of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Arakan Army — has shown what can be achieved when diverse ethnic armed organizations unite, not only in spirit but with strategy, tactics, and weaponry.
"If the ethnic armed groups can maintain and strengthen their unity and coordinate further military operations, the regime could be in real trouble"
Dozens of Myanmar army troops have surrendered or been captured and at least 28 police officers gave up their weapons. “Operation 1027” in Shan state has focused not only on the jungle warfare of the past but also on strategically important towns and trade routes. The alliance has blocked vital trade routes to China and seized a border hub in what amounts to the biggest challenge to the junta since the coup.
This shows that the armed struggle for Myanmar’s freedom is no longer just rural, but urban. If the ethnic armed groups can maintain and strengthen their unity and coordinate further military operations, the regime could be in real trouble.
If the ethnic groups can secure the long sought-after, but until now somewhat elusive united front, with the majority Burman pro-democracy movement putting aside past differences and fighting a truly common cause against General Min Aung Hlaing, they may have a chance of ridding Myanmar of the country’s current, and most brutal, military dictatorship.
Of course, this comes at a very high human price. According to the United Nations (UN), a total of two million people in Myanmar have been internally displaced since the coup. At least 200,000 have been displaced in recent weeks alone, across Shan, Chin, Karenni, and Mon states and the Sagaing region. An estimated 75 people have been killed in recent fighting, and 94 wounded.
And the Myanmar military shows no restraint. On the back foot, it is likely to inflict even more severe punishment on the people of Myanmar. Former general Myint Swe, appointed by junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing as president after the coup, has warned that the country could “split into various parts.”
The military’s raison d’être has always been, according to its own propaganda, to keep Myanmar together, so the last thing they wish to see is a break-up of the country. Massive displacement, killings, and human rights atrocities have been perpetrated by the regime since 2021, and that is only set to intensify.
On Nov 15, 11 people — including eight children — were killed when the military bombed a school in the remote village of Vuilu, Chin state, damaging houses and two churches.
"Efforts to cut the lifeline of finances, fuel, and arms that keep the junta afloat should be intensified"
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed deep concern about the escalation and has appealed for the protection of civilians and for humanitarian aid. But he needs to do much more than simply make appeals.
Guterres should lead the international community in shoring up support for Myanmar’s anti-junta forces. Efforts to cut the lifeline of finances, fuel, and arms that keep the junta afloat should be intensified, initiatives to bring the regime to justice should be enhanced and action to provide a lifeline to the people, through the delivery of humanitarian need to the displaced peoples through cross-border mechanisms should be stepped up.
One very welcome development is the announcement by six countries — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, and the Maldives — of their decision to join the Gambia’s case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, each one filing a “declaration of intervention.”
The case involves a prosecution of Myanmar for genocide against the Rohingya and is one of a number of international accountability initiatives.
Bringing about the downfall of this cruel and criminal illegitimate regime in Myanmar and the establishment of a genuine federal democracy in its place — one in which the rights of all people of all ethnicities and religions are given equal respect — should be our goal.
Bringing the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes to justice, ensuring aid to those in desperate need, and cutting off the junta’s sources of support should be our priorities.
It is carpe diem time for Myanmar and the international community. If we get it right, we might have a chance of seeing a new dawn for this beautiful but benighted country that has suffered 75 years of civil war, most of the past six decades under military repression, and several previous false dawns.
Let’s pray for Myanmar and act to support the brave, bold fighters and dissidents seeking a better future for their country.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.