Myanmar military battles ethnic armed groups, resistance forces after coup: NPR

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Myanmar’s military is reeling from a series of defeats at the hands of anti-junta forces 3 years after a coup in February 2021. Are the opposition’s recent successes enough to help shore up the regime?



ARI SHAPIRO, Guest:

It has been almost three years since the coup in Myanmar that plunged the country into civil war – one that left an estimated 2 million people displaced. The fight pits brutal weapons against ethnic armed groups and post-coup resistance forces, and the military is struggling. NPR’s Michael Sullivan reports from nearby Thailand.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: In late October, the so-called Three Brotherhood Alliance launched a surprise offensive against the military in northern Shan State, along the border with China. It was a huge success and continued into the new year.

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SULLIVAN: Earlier this month perhaps the biggest prize yet – the capture of the village of Laukkai and the surrender of the army garrison there along with its heavy weapons and ammunition, was gleefully displayed on social media by the victorious rebels.

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SULLIVAN: It was an extraordinary loss.

JASON TOWER: This is the largest surrender in military history – 2,389 soldiers just surrendered to the Brotherhood.

SULLIVAN: Jason Tower is the Myanmar Country Director for the United States Institute of Peace. He says the military is bleeding slowly, which may help explain why, at China’s urging, they agreed to a temporary ceasefire with the Brotherhood during talks in southern China last week.

TOWER: I really don’t see how they’re going to turn this around. I mean, the morale of the forces is at an all time low. And, throughout the rest of the country, fighting continues, and you don’t really see the army making any progress in the fronts to the west, south, southeast, etc.

SULLIVAN: And all of this has some analysts predicting the impending decline of the military. David Matheson is not one of them.

DAVID MATHIESON: The weapon is definitely on the back foot. It definitely hurts. But if this marks the end, that is not very clear. We don’t know when the end will be.

SULLIVAN: But dissent within the military is growing, mostly focused on Major General Min Aung Hlaing and his handling of the war effort, says Min Zaw Oo of the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security.

MIN ZAW OO: I spoke to a few battalion commanders and their peers, and they are very loyal to the military as an institution, but they are dissatisfied with the leadership. There is a lot of this opinion from the battalion commander who believes that their leadership has failed them.

SULLIVAN: But it remains an establishment that only believes it can maintain the unity of the country at any cost and has proven this in its brutal campaigns against ethnic minority militias across the years and against their ethnic Burman majority from the coup. That doesn’t seem to change, says David Matheson, even if Min Aung Hlaing is replaced.

MATHIESON: And if they’re pushed with their backs to the wall, they’re – basically, it’s going to be burned to the ground everywhere they go, and the evidence is in the last three years ‘ gone.

SULLIVAN: And even if the armor falls, he says, what then?

MATHIESON: I think there is a distorted analysis that assumes that there is much more unity between the various armed groups and unanimity of goals and aspirations.

SULLIVAN: The one thing they all agree on, he says, is that the military has to go.

MATHIESON: The political vision of many of the groups behind Operation 1027, the Kokang and the Ta’ang – they are largely limited to Shan State and the border with China. Maybe they don’t have a Myanmar national perspective, and that’s what I think people have to face. There is much less unity than some people are trying to suggest.

SULLIVAN: But there is a trend. Just this week, one of the most powerful ethnic militias captured a large city in the western part of the country bordering India and Bangladesh.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Chiang Rai.

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