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Tatmadaw’s Quandary in Myanmar: Bend or Break?

Tatmadaw or the Myanmar Armed Forces may be facing an existential crisis in Myanmar. The brutal military’s “Four Cuts,” strategy post the coup on 01 February 2021 has failed to break the will of the opposing People’s Defence Forces (PDF) and the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAO) supporting the fight against the military which was considered all powerful but is shaken up now.

Two years on the Army has limited options with either bending to the will of the people – the majority Bumar supported by a mix of ethnic groups from the Kachin, Chin to Karen and others or break if the fighting persists. While the break up of the Army will not happen any time soon but there appears that the bitter contest ongoing for, “freedom,” to choose the leaders may ultimately win.

That was expressed as much by the coup leader and commander of the armed forces Senior General Min Aung Hlaing recently. Speaking at the 77th anniversary of the founding of state broadcaster Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) in Naypyitaw, Min Aung Hlaing lamented that the resistance movement is beyond the military’s control reported the Irrawaddy.

Min Aung Hlaing told the National Defense and Security Council on February 1 that only 198 out of over 330 townships in Myanmar are 100 percent stable.

The intensity of violence continues to be high. While casualties of the resistance forces are not known but large number of civilians have suffered.

Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which monitors regime killings and arrests has claimed that 3000 civilians have been killed by the military after the coup..

19,739 people have been arrested and, of them, 15,882 remain are under detention.

Similarly, Myanmar junta troops have burned down 55,484 houses since the 2021 coup, according to independent research team Data For Myanmar. Data For Myanmar collected reports of arson attacks until January 31. 80 percent of the destroyed houses were in Sagaing Region as per the Irrawaddy

Resistance stronghold Sagaing Region suffered the most arson attacks, with 43,292 houses burned, followed by 8,863 in Magwe Region and 1,484 in Chin State, according to Data For Myanmar’s report. Of those killed, 1,229 people, or nearly 41 percent of total fatalities, were killed by junta and Pyu Saw Htee militia personnel in Sagaing Region. Neighboring Mandalay Region ranked second with 350 killed, while Yangon Region followed with 316. The report did not include those killed fighting the junta.

In a recent report the Irrawaddy claimed that 66 Myanmar junta forces as well as some resistance forces were killed as People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) and an ethnic armed organization (EAO) stepped up attacks on regime targets across the country in the last three days. These occurred in the Mandalay, Sagaing and Magwe regions and Kayah State as the PDF fought the Myanmar Army and the Pyu Saw Htee militia.

Unmindful of the setbacks in the battles with its own people the SAC as the military junta’s post coup administration is known has extended the emergency through a dictat of the National Defence and Security Council of Myanmar.

Preparations for holding elections at the end of the six month period have commenced with a degree of seriousness but these can only be anticipated in 2025 as a new census is being ordered for October 2024. The military possibly anticipates the situation may stabilize after another year and a half.

Quite obviously the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi will not be part of the polls while the military supported political party the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is pitching for a major stake in the future government under what many believe will be sham polls.

But again, this will depend on the possibility of the military to provide security for the polls. The PDFs now coordinated by the parallel National Unity Government (NUG) are determined to disrupt the polls. With instability in two thirds of the country, as acknowledged by the armed forces chief himself any improvement is unlikely. The resistance has not received outside support so far despite appeals which may be forthcoming ahead.

The military had hoped that like the previous civil disturbance in 1988, the resistance will be quelled but today the people are not likely to give up the resistance.

Presently there are no attempts to reconcile the two sides – the military and the NUG. While the Association of South East Asian Nations had proposed a five point agenda including talks the miliary has rejected the same branding the NUG and the PDF as, “terrorists”.

The war in Ukraine has meant that the world is not interested in Myanmar even though there was a resolution by the UN Security Council 2669 on 21 December 2022, for the first time in the history of the country which called for amongst other actions, “all parties in Myanmar to work constructively with the ASEAN Special Envoy and the UN Special Envoy to commence dialogue to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people of Myanmar.”

The last resolution on Myanmar was on 10 April 1948, which recommended then “Burma,” for UN membership.

The Tatmadaw has a reputation to resist outside influence and those who can wield so are few – Russia, China and Thailand who do not seem to be concerned over the state of violence and instability in the country given the state of play of geopolitics.

Thus, break appears to be the way ahead but a long way of.


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