Why Myanmar is now seeing its worst fighting in more than two years – The Indian Express

The Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday expressed “deep concern” over the ongoing fighting in the Rikhawdar area in Myanmar’s Chin State, close to the border with India opposite Zowkhathar in Mizoram, which has led to Myanmarese nationals crossing to the Indian side. (See map)
Myanmar has been in flames ever since the military seized power on February 1, 2021, the day the new parliament elected after the November 2020 elections was to convene. Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) have joined armed civilian groups called People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) — allied with the country’s self-declared National Unity Government in exile — to take on the military.
Over the past week, the resistance forces have captured two towns close to the India-Myanmar border after fierce fighting. The fall of the latter, Rikhawdar, has resulted in the influx of some 5,000 refugees into Mizoram.
It began on October 27 with surprise attacks in Shan State in North Myanmar along the border with China, by the Three Brotherhood Alliance, a front of three EAOs — the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Arakan Army. The offensive was named Operation 1027, after the date on which it was launched.
The resistance forces are reported to have overrun more than 100 military outposts in Shan State and seized control of crucial border towns and checkpoints, including Chinshwehaw, a critical point on the China-Myanmar border trade route, which is an important source of revenue for the junta. The rebels are now pushing towards Laukkai, the capital of Shan state’s Kokang region, where the MNDAA has been active for more than three decades.
Fighting has also broken out elsewhere in the country, led by various local resistance forces — in the Rakhine State in West Myanmar, Kayin State in South-East Myanmar, Sagaing region in North West Myanmar bordering Manipur, and Chin State in West Myanmar bordering Mizoram.
Despite a brutal crackdown against the EAOs and PDFs, including carrying out airstrikes on rebel gatherings, the junta has not succeeded in establishing control over large parts of the country. The ongoing multi-pronged offensive by the resistance forces is seen as the stiffest challenge to the junta since the coup more than two and a half years ago.
Among those who fled to Mizoram after Rikhawdar was captured by Chin fighters, were 73 members of the Myanmar army and police. Rebel groups have claimed that members of the junta forces have surrendered elsewhere, too.
Myint Swe, president of the State Administration Council (SAC), which governs the country, is reported to have cautioned that “if the government does not effectively manage the incidents happening in the border region, the country will be split into various parts”.
Angshuman Choudhury, an Associate Fellow with the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) who works on Myanmar, said what distinguishes the current offensive is the unprecedented level of coordination among the various rebel groups, and the inability of the military to mount an adequate response.
“This is the first time that we’re seeing a proper coordinated attack [by the three groups in the Three Brotherhood Alliance] since the coup. There was a coordinated attack in 2019 too, but it failed to achieve much. This time they have captured an unprecedented expanse of territory in the North…
“The military is not being able to respond with proportionate force, and has been unable to get the territory back… Fighting spirit and morale is low among the rank and file of the military. From base to base, entire battalions have surrendered without a fight,” Choudhury said.
In a joint statement issued on October 27, the three groups had said their objective was “eradicating the oppressive military dictatorship, a shared aspiration of the entire Myanmar populace”. While it is indeed under unprecedented pressure in the frontier areas, the junta remains in control of the Bamar heartland in Central Myanmar.
“This (the coordinated, multipronged rebel offensive) is new for them, that is why they are struggling to respond on the ground. Many of the roads are blocked, and many of the infantry don’t want to take the risk, so they are relying more and more on air attacks. But air attacks are costly… You can see signs of the pressure on the junta leadership… Even before 1027, the military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing had purged his Home Minister and Defence Minister,” Choudhury said.
The resistance in Shan State appears to be receiving tacit support from China, Myanmar’s giant neighbour and biggest trade partner. China has been pressing the military government — without much success — to crack down on the enclaves of “scam centres” on the Myanmar-China border, which have been targeting Chinese citizens. The rebels’ October 27 statement on the other hand mentioned that they intended to “combat the widespread online gambling fraud that has plagued Myanmar, particularly along the China-Myanmar border”.
In an analysis, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), a peace academy established by Congress, flagged the role of China in the rebels’ progress.
“While the operation clearly took weeks of planning, it followed a tragic incident on October 20 in which guards outside a Kokang BGF (Border Guard Force of the Myanmar armed forces) scam compound killed multiple Chinese and Thai individuals, allegedly including undercover Chinese police. The incident certainly infuriated China…,” said the commentary by Priscilla A Clapp and Jason Tower.
“Without the ability to paint Operation 1027 as an effort to serve Chinese interest in curbing the criminal compounds, the anti-junta forces would have risked strong Chinese disapproval and possible prevention of such an attack on its border. Tacit Chinese support was therefore essential to the operation’s success,” it said. (Myanmar’s Junta Is Losing Control of Its Border with China)
India has so far walked a fine line between expressing concern at the “interruption” of democracy in Myanmar, and engaging with the junta to protect its “vital interests”. In the current situation, the immediate concern for India is the influx of Myanmarese nationals in the border states of the Northeast at a time when the situation in Manipur remains volatile.
The anti-junta forces have captured two important towns close to the only two border crossing points between Myanmar and India — Rikhawdar, close to Zokhawthar in Mizoram, and Khampat in Sagaing region, around 60 km from Moreh in Manipur. The latter is also part of the proposed India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project.
Sukrita BaruahSukrita is a reporter based in Guwahati, covering India's North East f… read more


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