Attacks on the military have seen a significant increase in wide swathes of Myanmar in the two weeks since the country’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) declared war on the junta, ethnic army representatives said Tuesday.
On Sept. 7, Duwa Lashi La, interim president of the five-month-old NUG, declared a nationwide state of emergency and called for open rebellion against junta rule, prompting an escalation of attacks on military targets by various allied pro-democracy militias and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs).
He called on the numerous branches of the People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias and EAOs to “target the military and their support pillars to take control of their regions,” while also urging “all levels of local administrators to stop working immediately.”
Two weeks on, fighting has ticked up in Karen, Kachin, Kayah, Chin and northern Shan states – all home to ethnic armies that have been at odds with the central government long before the Feb. 1 coup.
The Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Chin National Front (CNF), Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), have stepped up military operations in the areas where they operate, their spokesmen told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Tuesday.
KNU foreign affairs officer Pado Saw Tawney said fighting has intensified because the people of Myanmar realize that—more than seven months after the junta seized power—nobody is going to come to their rescue.
“The people understand that … they cannot rely on international assistance or mediation, as the [global community] has done nothing, even after more than a thousand people have been killed for no reason. They have clearly realized they must fend for themselves,” he said.
“Young people want to defend themselves from repression and arbitrary killings and we are not stopping them, instead we will help as much as we can … They understand the NUG stance and have finally decided they must do something.”
Pado Saw Tawney vowed that the KNU would support any group that opposes the junta, since “it will never accept a military dictatorship.”
Myanmar’s military overthrew the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government on Feb. 1, claiming the party had stolen the country’s November 2020 ballot through voter fraud.
The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently repressed anti-coup protests, killing at least 1,114 people and arresting 6,666 others, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
Salai Htet Ni, a spokesman for the CNF, told RFA that ethnic armed groups and local militias must join hands if they hope to unseat the powerful military.
“We’ll get closer to victory if we all join in the fight against the junta in unity. Armed ethnic groups have given training to CDF in the Chin State as well as PDF forces from the plains since the military coup,” he said.
“Unity is crucial. We aim for strength-building and mutual support. Not just CDF forces or PDF forces fighting for themselves but working in collaboration among all groups.”
Many EAOs have been fighting against Myanmar’s military for the more than 70 years since the country’s 1948 independence. In the aftermath of this year’s coup, several groups have thrown their support behind anti-junta resistance fighters, while others are joining forces with the local PDF branches to fight the military.
Colonel Naw Bu, spokesman of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), told RFA that his group provides military direction to the PDF forces in Kachin state.
“The NUG stirred up the public sentiment with its latest statement,” he said.
“[We] are also ready to fight off any offensive by the military here in Kachin state. Currently we have drawn up a strategy together with the PDF forces, whom we have taken under our wings.”
Naw Bu’s comments follow an Aug. 27 press conference during which junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun warned EAOs not to provide arms, training and other assistance to PDF militias, regardless of whether they had negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the military. The junta regards PDF groups as “terrorists.”
The escalated fighting across the country has displaced thousands more civilians.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement on Sept. 17 that fighting in Kayah state had displaced 22,000 people in September alone.
It said more than 120,000 people have been displaced by fighting since May 21 in Kayah and southeastern Shan states, as well as tens of thousands in Chin, Kachin and Karen states, as well as Magway and Sagaing regions.
Late last month, OCHA announced that the number of people who need humanitarian aid in Myanmar increased to nearly two million since the military coup. Those displaced by the recent fighting join more than 500,000 refugees from decades of conflict between the military and EAOs who were already counted as IDPs at the end of 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Norwegian NGO.
Analysts told RFA the path to internal peace in Myanmar remains a long way off, as tensions between the military and anti-junta forces have never been higher.
“War is inevitable when political dialogue fails to bring in results. And along with war will come death and destruction. You cannot avoid it,” said political and military analyst Maung Maung Soe.
“China and ASEAN have called for a dialogue among the domestic forces and the U.S. and the West have also called for a peaceful solution to the problem. But domestically, tensions between both sides are at their highest, with each hoping for total annihilation of the other … There is very little hope for a dialogue.”
No opposition to public will
Late on Monday, former State Counsellor and NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi confirmed a statement she reportedly made to her legal defense team that she would not oppose an armed rebellion against the junta.
Earlier on Monday, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw and his team had met with Aung San Suu Kyi for around half an hour before her trial hearing at the Special Court in the capital Naypyidaw’s Zambuthiri township and asked her about reports spread online by pro-military social media users since Sept. 17 that she did not approve of the armed resistance by NUG, PDF groups and others.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial in a junta court on charges widely regarded as politically motivated was suspended for two months amid an outbreak in the country of COVID-19 and was set to resume on Sept. 13, but was postponed when she complained of dizzy spells. She attended court the following day and hearings in her trial are now held weekly on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 76, had been in good health during the last two months, and had experienced difficulties only on Monday, her lawyers told RFA. She had previously been under the care of a family doctor, but after being taken into custody was assigned a doctor by the junta.
Aung San Suu Kyi now faces up to 11 different charges filed by the military against her, and if found guilty in all cases could face a maximum sentence of more than 100 years in prison.
On Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi pled not guilty to the charge of “defamation of the state” under Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code, according to her lawyers.
The prosecution had opened cases against her, as well as former President Win Myint and Naypyidaw Mayor Dr. Myo Aung, claiming that two statements issued by the NLD Central Executive Committee in February and April were meant to disrupt public order and instigate against the state.
The Mandalay Region High Court will begin hearing four corruption cases against her in a special court in Naypyidaw on Oct. 1 and proceedings are expected to take place weekly on Fridays.
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