A broader military offensive launched by Myanmar’s ruling military junta earlier this month in Sagaing, Magway and other regions showing resistance to the regime looks like an effort to clear the way for new elections next year to give its rule some appearance of legitimacy, analysts say.
Under Myanmar’s Constitution, drafted in 2008 by a previous military-led government, a junta can only extend its tenure twice after a year has passed since a coup, for six months at a time. The regime is now operating under its second half-year extension of emergency rule since the Feb. 1, 2021 coup.
Junta chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech on Aug. 1 marking 18 months of military rule that the regime wanted to hold elections once fighting in the country was brought under control.
The military then significantly increased its ground, air and water attacks, especially in restive Sagaing and Magway regions. Anti-junta opposition groups across the country have said that they will oppose any elections held by the military regime, believing they would not be free and fair.
On the day the junta chief laid out his plan, eight villagers and two People’s Defense Force (PDF) members were killed in a helicopter attack and a ground raid on Let Pan Kyin village in Sagaing’s Myinmu township, with some homes were destroyed by fire.
Local residents of Yin Paung Tine village in Yinmarbin township said they found the bodies of 19 people, including children and the elderly, in the village as a result of a three-day attack from the ground and the air that ended on Aug. 14.
Capt. Boh Bala of the Yinmarbin-based Young Rangers Force, which has been fighting the military forces, told RFA that the junta’s attacks on the villages have been conducted to weaken local PDF units.
“They have now changed their strategy,” he said. “They know that we have no weapons to defend ourselves against the airstrikes, so they attack from the air and conduct lightning raids to gain a military advantage for themselves. I can see that they are launching these attacks to weaken our strength. With these raids, they hope to break down our units and the military strategy we are building."
The air attacks are less discriminating and more innocent citizens are being caught up in the fighting, he added.
Military troops have raided at least 10 villages in Sagaing region since Aug. 1, with about 1,000 houses burned and roughly 15,000 people displaced, local residents said.
Nay Zin Lat, a former lawmaker from the northwestern region, said the military has conducted two-prong attacks in August in areas where the armed resistance is strong.
“There have been more frequent and more vigorous attacks lately,” he said. “They are using helicopters to move quickly from one place to another. With the use of helicopters, they can launch attacks more frequently than before. Even from the water, we can say they have reached a level of using warships.”
Area residents have reported seeing five or six naval ships sandwiched between cargo vessels heading up the Irrawaddy River, Nay Zin Lat added.
“So, we can say they are using all the powers they have from the land, sea and air,” he said.
'Situation is very bad'
Junta troops also have attacked villages in central Myanmar’s Magway region, where anti-regime forces are also strong.
A Myaing township resident, who declined to give his name for fear of his safety, said junta troops have burned villages in Myaing, Pauk, Seik Pyu and Yesagyo townships, which harbor strong anti-junta sentiments, just like in Sagaing.
“In Myaing and Pauk townships, the situation is very bad right now,” he told RFA. “They are attacking in two or three columns.”
Junta forces want to set up administrative systems in areas they control but haven’t been able to in much of the region, the resident said.
“Villages here are without administrators,” he said. “There are no village administrators in about 70% of the villages.”
On July 31, the junta announced that it extended the state of emergency in Myanmar for another six months, to Feb. 1, 2023, or two years after the coup. According to the Constitution, the regime will have to hold elections within six months after that date, so by August.
Min Zaw Oo, executive director of the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security, said that fighting is likely to continue until the elections.
“When there is an armed movement, the rulers will try to weaken and crush it,” he told RFA. “They want it to disappear. But in more than half the townships [in Myanmar], there will still be armed attacks. Bombing attacks will continue.”
It is also uncertain whether Myanmar citizens would participate in any election the military attempted to hold, he said.
Political analyst Sai Kyi Zin Soe said the military is more aggressive in areas where there is strong resistance because it is trying to eliminate anyone who will oppose the holding of an election.
“We are seeing more military offensives, and that they are continuing to make more arrests with malice,” he said about the junta forces. “It is obvious that they’re trying to remove from the political scene all those who do not accept the election and its way of reforming the country.
“One thing is for sure: this election may not be an outlet for the military,” Sai Kyi Zin Soe said. “But what is certain is that they have already decided to continue to implement this plan.”
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