Sun. May 26th, 2024

Could Myanmar’s junta be calling it quits after a rough losing streak?

Alex Thompson By Alex Thompson May18,2024
Eyes are back on Myanmar, three years after a military coup and seven years on from central events in the ongoing persecution and genocide of the Rohingya people – dubbed by the United Nations as .
The military junta has wreaked havoc across the country in an ongoing attempt to stamp out those who oppose them, leaving thousands of civilians dead.
Now, the junta and its leader Min Aung Hlaing are struggling to assert control.

Over the course of the past week resistance groups led by the Karen National Union (KNU) seized control of Myawaddy, a town of about 200,000 people lying across the Moei River from the Thai city of Mae Sot, in a major blow to the military regime.

Myawaddy is one of the most important border crossings in Myanmar, crucial to the flow of goods to and from Thailand, and has long been under military rule.
Officials say there’s been a surge of refugees escaping Myanmar this week, with some 4,000 fleeing heavy fighting on the ground.

Thailand’s foreign minister said on Friday his government was preparing for an influx of refugees and urged the Myanmar junta to scale back the violence.

A group of people on a small vehicle.

Officials say there’s been a surge of refugees escaping Myanmar into the Thai city of Mae Sot. Source: AAP / Sakchai Lalit/AP

It’s unclear at this stage what the Myanmar military’s next steps will be — but it may try and take the town back, and intense fighting may follow.

What does Myawaddy’s capture mean for the junta?

Myawaddy’s seizure by rebels is the latest in a string of losses for the junta and a boon for Myanmar’s formidable anti-coup resistance, which in recent months has wrested large and strategically significant parts of the country from military control.

The UN estimates two-thirds of the country remains gripped by conflict, but the military regime has sustained losses along the northern border with China, in the west towards the border with India and along its southeastern border with Thailand.

Nathan Ruser, analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the past six months had brought about an “acceleration in the decline of the junta”.
“We’re really seeing what I think most analysts would consider the terminal decline of the junta,” Ruser told SBS News. “It’s a new reality that I think the world needs to start waking up to.”

Here’s how Myanmar ended up in its current state and why it could be at a turning point.

A person holds up three fingers in a salute.

A protester makes a three-finger salute during a rally to mark the third anniversary of the coup in Myanmar. Source: Getty / SOPA Images

Myanmar’s coup

On 1 February 2021, the Myanmar military launched a coup against the civilian government, declaring the 2020 November election invalid and instating a one-year state of emergency.
The coup happened against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, and “caught everyone by surprise”, according to Nick Cheesman, director of the Myanmar Centre at the Australian National University.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a longtime democracy activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Myanmar state councillor, was arrested and jailed along with several other prominent lawmakers in her party.

Australian Sean Turnell, who was working as an adviser to the fledgling democratic government, was detained under charges of breaching the Official State Secrets Act. He was later granted amnesty and released in 2022.

The military takeover kicked off nationwide protests that filled the streets with hundreds of thousands of people. It was “possibly the largest public protests against the military that Myanmar had ever seen”, Cheesman told SBS News.

Crackdown

Peaceful demonstrations were soon turned into bloodbaths as the junta cracked down on dissent, arresting civilian officials, protest leaders and journalists.
Live ammunition was fired into crowds of unarmed protesters.
“Under the leadership of Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, junta security forces have carried out mass killings, torture, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses against protesters, journalists, lawyers, health workers, and political opposition members amounting to crimes against humanity,”
“Military attacks in the country’s northwest and southeast have resulted in numerous war crimes. The nature of the security force crackdown – methodical, widespread, and systematic – reflects the junta’s countrywide policy of suppressing the opposition”.

The UN estimates more than 2.5 million people have fled conflict and insecurity since the coup.

Rise of the rebels

Cheesman said the consequence of the junta’s actions against protesters “was thousands of people took to armed resistance, they went to the countryside to search for groups that are already in armed opposition to the military”.
This led to the creation of “people’s defence forces” and the formation of the National Unity Government (NUG) to challenge the junta’s legitimacy.

These factions — along with older, more experienced ethnic armed groups — have formed the armed resistance, often with little supplies and weaponry.

Cheesman described their collective action as “unprecedented”.
“We never saw anything like them forming in earlier periods of armed resistance and political resistance to military rule in Myanmar … [this] is a new type of dispersed warfare, all of it concentrated on and insisting upon the end of military rule.”

The efficacy of coordinated and synchronised attacks by these groups, aided by the NUG, has made it “tremendously difficult” for the junta to get on top of things, Cheesman said.

Large crowds of people holding flags and banners on the street

Protesters take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on 6 February, 2021. Source: Getty / Ye Aung Thu

A turning point

On 27 October 2023, the conflict reached a turning point when operations were launched by several allied armed ethnic groups calling themselves the Brotherhood Alliance in Myanmar’s northern Shan state.
The Brotherhood Alliance seized dozens of military outposts, but most importantly, the junta conceded it had lost control of several towns — including Chinshwehaw, which borders China’s Yunnan province and is a major trade artery for Myanmar.
The campaigns that followed “had huge implications” that “buoyed the resistance” and continued a string of humiliating defeats for the junta, Cheesman said.

“I can’t think of anywhere that the military has won back any ground or bases … it’s just been relentlessly defeated everywhere,” he said.

“This basically marks the largest city that’s been captured by the resistance since the revolution started,” Ruser told SBS News.
“[It’s] the latest in a series of especially border towns that they have lost in the past six months, which really, to most analysts, seems to mark the real acceleration of their decline.”
Thousands of soldiers have defected or surrendered. The junta’s recent embrace of mandatory conscription has resulted in “long queues” of people attempting to flee the country.

“It’s obvious to everyone they’re losing … they’re losing personnel, they’re losing equipment, they’re losing friends,” Cheesman said.

Soldiers in armoured carriers drive down a street

Armoured personnel carriers are seen on the streets of Mandalay on 3 February, 2021. Source: Getty / STR/AFP

While the UN says that Russia, China and India are still sending weapons to Myanmar, “it’s now plausible that the military regime in Myanmar can be defeated militarily,” he said.

“What was previously implausible, is now plausible.”
As resistance forces inch closer to reclaiming Myanmar, figureheads of the various anti-coup groups are now in discussion about what the future of the nation might look like, according to Ruser.
“I think more so now than we’ve ever seen in the Burmese history, there’s this consensus across the armed groups and the opposition groups that there is an opportunity here to build a more federal, more democratic, more open Burma,” he said.

– With additional reporting by AAP.

Alex Thompson

By Alex Thompson

Alex is an award-winning journalist with a passion for investigative reporting. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Alex has covered a wide range of topics from politics to entertainment. Known for in-depth research and compelling storytelling, Alex's work has been featured in major news outlets around the world.

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2 thoughts on “Could Myanmar’s junta be calling it quits after a rough losing streak?”
  1. It’s about time the junta faces the consequences of their actions. The people of Myanmar have suffered enough at the hands of the military regime. Hopefully, this recent setback will be a turning point towards democracy and peace in the country.

  2. It seems like the military junta in Myanmar is facing a tough time. The recent loss of Myawaddy to resistance groups might signal their weakening control. The junta’s future actions remain uncertain, but reclaiming the town could lead to more violence and conflict.

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