Longview: A civil war is brewing in Myanmar

After more than two months of continuous protests against the Military Junta’s coup of February 1, the ongoing conflict in Myanmar seems to have no end in sight. The NLD’s Committee Representing the National Parliament (CRPH) faces economic and logistical setbacks to create a more vigorous and united opposition to the junta among the hundreds of ethnic groups that make up the country. On top of the domestic setbacks, the international community’s lack of concrete action also hinders the opposition to the junta. Despite the economic sanctions targeting several top-ranking military officials and national companies linked to the military, the international community has remained chiefly idle. The CRPH is also struggling because it has not yet been recognised as the legitimate government of Myanmar. Without this recognition, much-needed administrative support and economic resources cannot be allocated to fight the junta.

With the latest tally reaching over 700 casualties and the injured counted in the thousands, it is becoming evident that violence is growing faster in the past weeks, more so after the events during the annual Armed Forces Day celebrations on March 27. At least 114 people perished at the military’s hands, making it the bloodiest day since the coup’s beginning. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, 3,080 people have been arrested as of April 13, including journalists and national celebrities opposing the coup. Among the detained, Bachelet referenced reports that indicate 23 have been sentenced to death. Peaceful protesters in Myanmar’s main cities are the main target of the military and police forces. Located in the country’s central region, the cities of Yangon, Naypyidaw, and Mandalay are under the military’s tight control. However, the military’s violence has spread to borderland regions, home to Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups. The military’s arrival has brought the ethnic armed organizations that control those areas to take center stage in the conflict as both the CRPH and the Military Junta are trying to enlist them on their ranks.

Fearing the conflict becomes an all-out civil war, both sides have taken measures to end the conflict. On April 1, the Military Junta announced a unilateral Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement for the entire month of April to stop the escalating confrontations with opposing ethnic armed organizations. The junta seeks to reach out to ethnic military groups that have remained silent since the coup or have not entered into an alliance with the CRPH due to unresolved grudges with Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government. The junta also reiterated their commitment to celebrating elections; however, these should occur within two years. Despite the junta’s ceasefire agreement, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Kachin state and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in southern Kayin state have reported military attacks and junta planes scouting their bases in those regions and prompting locals to flee to avoid retaliation. Junta violence also hit central Bago, where over 80 people were killed on April 9- 10.

Conversely, the CRPH attempted to initiate a path towards consolidating power on the same day the ceasefire began. The CRPH presented a federal democracy charter with the support of some civil society, political, and ethnic minority groups. The charter seeks to bring together as many ethnic and political factions into the same bloc to create a substantial opposition against the junta. At the political level, it introduces a new national federal political system that advocates for a change in the current centralist rule, providing sovereignty to Myanmar’s states and peoples. Perhaps its most ambitious objective lies in the army. The CRPH’s goal is to man its military with members of several Myanmar’s ethnic armed organisations. However, the plan has been met with skepticism. Several ethnic armies have fought each other in the past, and some still do.

Myanmar is home to one of the most protracted ongoing internal conflicts in the world. The drawn-out conflict between the Myanmar government and more than 20 ethnic armed groups began in 1948, the same year the country celebrated its independence from the United Kingdom. By bringing these armed groups to the forefront and vying for their support, the CRPH and the Military Junta are pitting against each other groups that were already confronted. With tensions at an all-time high, some armed groups have already pledged their support. Chief among them are the KIA and the KNLA. More recently, the three armed groups of the Brotherhood Alliance: the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army joined the CPRH after ending the ceasefire agreement they had with the junta. On April 10, they made it official when they launched an attack on a police station. While groups like the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) have denounced the coup but have not taken action nor sided with the CRPH, other armed groups are testing the waters and will side with the faction that yields the more benefits to their interests. Lastly, armed groups like the United Wa State Army (UWSA) have remained silent. Since the UWSA is the largest ethnic armed group and the primary provider of weapons to the other armed groups, whichever side wins their support, albeit partial, will gain a strategic advantage.

According to the former Myanmar ambassador to the UK, unless negotiations take place, the chances of a civil war breaking out are more likely. Other sources point out that the country is on the brink of becoming a failed state. Credit rating agencies predict a 20% drop in Myanmar’s economic growth. These predictions add to Bachelet’s statement, where she addresses that the economy and essential services such as education and health services “have been brought to the brink of collapse, leaving millions of Myanmar people without a livelihood, basic services, and, increasingly, food security“. As time goes by and more actors enter the arena, Myanmar seems to head towards a civil war in the short term. More so with a dormant international community divided between those who sanction and those who remain silent. Domestically, the CRPH will require extreme caution to manage the disparity of its allies. As more armed groups join their side, it will also have to negotiate if the conditions their allies demand match those of the new Myanmar the CRPH is intent on creating. Until then, most of the burden will remain on protesters and civilians in general, as they sustain civil disobedience against the junta for the weeks or months to come.

The Editor: Marta Nuevo Falguera

Barcelona, 1994. Marta holds a Master’s degree in International Relations and speaks six languages. Located in the Netherlands, she currently works as a political analyst for an intelligence company, and writes articles about East and Southeast Asian politics at El Orden Mundial.

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