Myanmar's two years of military rule

Md. Mustakim Ahmed *

Since independence, the people of Myanmar have rarely had the taste of democracy. Decades after decades the country has been under military rule. In February 2021, military took power again, ousting the elected Govt. of National League for Democracy (NLD).

The junta, officially called the State Administration Council (SAC) detained and charged de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi with corruption and other crimes. It placed lawmakers from her party, the NLD, and other parties, as well as many activists, under house arrest.

Massive protests erupted Nationwide in the weeks after the coup. Ousted NLD lawmakers, protest leaders and activists from several minority groups established a parallel Government known as the National Unity Government (NUG). In September 2021, the NUG declared war on the junta and formed an armed division known as the People’s Defense Force (PDFs).

Situation of the Junta

Junta chief is resurrecting his predecessors’ attempts to militarize the civil service. Half of the 30 Ministries represented in the military regime’s Cabinet are now overseen by military officers. Union Civil Service Board (UCSB), the body responsible for the recruitment and promotion of civil servants, has been taken over by the military, with nine officers led by a Colonel.

Union Election Commission UEC is now headed by former Major General and already has members who are former army officers. In fact, all administrative bodies of the Govt. are now directly or indirectly under control of the Junta.

Junta has successfully launched a peace deal with the Arakan Army, ending a severe clash of last couple of months in Rakhine. The military has also extended the ceasefire agreement with ten EAOs till the end of 2023.

In the former Bamar-dominated regions (Sagaing, Magway and Mandalay), epicenter and hot beds of the new resistance movement, armed operations have been intensified by the Junta to neutralize resistance forces. Nationwide, more than 40,000 houses and installations have been torched by the Junta troops to create fear and neutralize resistances.

Defections from Myanmar security forces to the anti-junta opposition have now dropped significantly. Due to tightened security and stricter regulations in Myanmar’s military, as well as inadequate protection and support for defectors by the NUG and other Opposition organizations as the reasons for the drop.

Though in November 2022, junta Defense Minister was excluded from ASEAN’s ADMM meetings, Thailand has maintained a policy of engagement with the Myanmar junta, deepening divisions in ASEAN. Thailand hosted an informal “non-ASEAN” meeting that gave the Junta’s Foreign Minister a rare opportunity to meet face-to-face with four of his regional counterparts.

A Myanmar military delegation was allowed to participate virtually in an ADMM-Plus gathering on maritime security that was hosted by the US military in Hawaii last August. In latest, Myanmar Junta’s Defence Ministry has been invited to a five-day regional meeting and table-top exercise on maritime security, which is organized by ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM)-Plus Experts’ Working Group and co-hosted by Thailand and the United States in February 2023.

In a very unexpected report, United Nations experts, companies from 13 countries including France, Germany, China, India, Russia, Singapore and the United States have been providing supplies that are ‘critical’ to the production of weapons in Myanmar.

This support includes licenses, raw materials, software, parts and components. High precision machines manufactured by companies based in Austria, Germany, Japan, Taiwan and the US are currently being used by the Myanmar military at its weapons factories.

These automated tools have turning, milling and grinding functions and play a critical role in the manufacturing of weapons. With at least 25 arms factory, Myanmar military has now become largely self-sufficient in manufacturing a range of weapons including guns, ammunition and landmines.

NUG/EAOs position

More than 7800 clashes between the Junta troops and EAOs/PDFs have been recorded since the coup. The NUG has so far established about 300 battalions and has links with some 400 local PDFs. A PDF battalion has around 200 troops, meaning the NUG has mustered an army of around 60,000 resistance fighters, excluding local PDFs. NUG and EAOs have also established three military regional commands (Northern, Central and Southern command) in Myanmar. A PDF Military Headquarters had also been established with five departments.

Though the NUG has yet to unify all resistance forces under a single command, it has made impressive progress developing a Nationwide network of resistance forces over the past two years. Many of those resistance fighters have undergone basic military training and have gained combat experience. But arming all of its battalions, not to mention local PDFs, remains a challenge for the NUG.

On the other hand, Ethnic Armed Groups- KIA, KNU, CNF, CDF, KNPP, KNDF, and the All-Burma Students Democratic Front, with a combined forces of 45,000 troops are cooperating fully with the pro-democracy resistance groups to topple the regime.

AA, TNLA and the MNDAA, with a combined strength of 45,000 troops, have engaged in fewer clashes with Junta troops, but the three groups are understood to be supporting Spring Revolution forces with weapons or equipment. Three other EAOs with a combined force of about 45,000 – the UWSA, NDAA, and the SSPP– barely engage with the country’s resistance forces. But neither will they fight for the regime, preferring the role of self-interested onlookers.

Signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement are under the control of the regime. But they are unlikely to join the regime-friendly Border Guard Force and militias in fighting alongside junta forces. The UN Security Council adopted (Dec 21) a resolution on Myanmar, that expressed deep concern at the ongoing state of emergency imposed by the military since the coup and its grave impact on the people of Myanmar, condemned the military’s execution of pro-democracy activists and urged the military to immediately release all arbitrarily detained prisoners.

The US Senate passed (Dec 15) a newly amended version of the Burma Act, which enables the US to engage directly with NUG, NUCC and EAOs, provide non-lethal support to the EAOs and PDFs and introduce a program of sanctions against the junta and its supporters.

Towards an uncertain future

As resistance forces are not yet fully armed, have few weapons to counter airstrikes, lack artillery and are not yet under a single chain of command needed to conduct synchronized attacks, it is unlikely that revolutionary forces can oust the regime this year.

On the other hand, Myanmar’s military is also in no position to crush resistance forces soon. The clashes may continue for uncertain periods but hopes still remains for the mass people because international pressure on junta is increasing day-by-day.

* Md. Mustakim Ahmed wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an Associate Professor and writer
This article was webcasted on February 25 2023.

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