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Myanmar Army: Losing the Periphery, Holding the Centre


Myanmar’s physical and ethnic topography is defined by a centre comprising of the Irrawaddy and its tributaries which is mainly populated by the majority Bamar and the periphery of mountains and hills the abode of numerous ethnicities. Over the years the State’s control of the periphery has comprised of an understanding with the political leaders of the numerous ethnic groups who hold varied sway over the areas in which they have a majority assisted by the Ethnic Armed Organisations [EAOs].


Over the years these groups have attempted to negotiate a federal structure for the country which has been resisted by the Bamar political groups and mainly the Tatmadaw or the Myanmar Armed Forces. The compromise suited both sides and thus an uneasy truce which was attempted to be formalised into a Nationwide Cease Fire with at least ten of these groups prevailed.


Post the February 2021 coup,  sensing declining military power of the Tatmadaw, the EAOs realised the potential to gain control over ethnic areas. This resistance has run parallel to that of the National Unity Government – the mainly Bamar led resistance. Comparatively the EAOs have made considerable progress particularly in the past one year.


EAOs who have made considerable progress including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) based in Kachin State, the Arakan Army (AA) based in Rakhine State, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) based in Shan State, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF), and Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) as per the Irrawaddy. EAOs based in Karen, Chin and Mon states have also achieved some success but not as spectacular as their counterparts.


The progress made by the EAOs in March this year on the periphery is outlined in a report by the Irrawaddy and summarised as given below-


Kachin State


KIA captured all junta positions confronting its Laiza Headquarters in March, along the 120-mile road linking the second city of Bhamo with the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina, Lwegel crossing used for trade with China and controls the Ayeyarwady River between Bhamo and Myitkyina. KIA is said to be in control of the mining hubs and gold and amber mines in Hpakant, Tanai Township, Myitkyina District. People’s Defense Force (PDF) groups of the NUG are also fighting with the KIA.


Chin State


Chin resistance is working in tandem with the AA, and gained control of Kyindwe town in Kantpetlet Township strategically critical for combined anti-regime forces from Chin, Magwe and Rakhine. The Chin Brotherhood Alliance of six Chin groups had begun to attack junta positions in the town on December 22. Magwe resistance groups and the Arakan Army were also involved in the fighting. The alliance includes the Zomi Federal Union, Chin National Organization, Chin National Council in Mindat, Maraland Territorial Council and Chinland Defense Force in Kanpetlet and Matupi.


Rakhine


Arakan Army has been one of the most successful and has seized nine towns in Rakhine and southern Chin State. Fighting has intensified in Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Ann and Thandwe townships since March. The AA is now targeting Western Command in Ann Township, attacking a hilltop command base guarding the command. The armed group now controls the road linking Ann with Minbu in Magwe Region

Karenni (Kayah)


Irrawaddy report claims that the junta’s administrative mechanism has collapsed in Karenni State, which borders its nerve center of Naypyitaw. Resistance forces have captured Maese, Ywathit, Shadaw, Mawchi, Moebye and Nan Mae Khon towns and now control half of Loikaw, the Karenni State capital and have gained control over 90 percent of the state.


Karen and Mon states


The resistance led by the Karen National Union (KNU), PDF groups, a splinter group of the New Mon State Party known as New Mon State Party Anti-Dictatorship (NMSP-AD), and local anti-regime groups which have seized Papun town and are attacking four junta positions including two battalion headquarters in the township. Resistance forces seized junta positions near the country’s main trade hub of Myawaddy on the Thai border. They were however forced to withdraw from Myawaddy Town after intervention by the junta-affiliated Border Guard Force (BGF).  Operation Aung Zeya has been launched to retake full control of Myawaddy.


Shan State


The TNLA and MNDAA have achieved their territorial ambitions in northern Shan State and are installing civilian administrations and rebuilding infrastructure. Meanwhile, a faction of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization led by Khun Thurein is fighting the regime around Hsihseng Town.


Domino Effect

Seeing the success of the EAOs fighting the resistance, newly formed groups are joining in with Danu Self-Administered Zone, the newly formed Danu People’s Liberation Front and Danu PDF, Lahu Democratic Union Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), one of the oldest Shan groups, is also reportedly preparing to fight the regime is expected to join though at present, it is reported to have supplied arms to the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force and Pa’O National Liberation Organization. Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) on the other hand considers the PDF as criminals and thus has not joined the fighting.


Division, Coordination and Conscription


The military has been able to keep the ethnic groups divided and thus has been assisted by these such as the BGF in retaking the Myawaddy town on the Thai border. Lack of unity and coordination between the EAOs and the NUG led PDFs has been exploited by the Tatmadaw which has also expanded the conscription particularly in the Bamar belt in the centre. As per the Irrawaddy the first batch was trained in April in Naypyitaw, Mandalay, Bago, Tanintharyi and Magwe regions, Shan and Mon states, Hopong Township in Pa-O Self-Administered Zone, and training schools in respective regional commands. The second batch in the same areas in general in May.


How the new conscripts will fare given that there have been mass desertions of trained Myanmar Army soldiers in multiple areas some walking over to India and Bangladesh remains to be seen? The military is possibly hoping to consolidate in the Centre and attempt to regain areas on the main axis connecting China, India and Thailand in the first phase and work beyond later. The active assistance of  pro-military groups has also been taken for operations by the military.


Note:- While the report quotes the Irrawaddy, other Myanmar media has been counter checked for similar reports including some military supported sources.

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