As the death toll among Myanmar protesters rose dramatically over the past weekend, military airstrikes against one of the country’s largest rebel groups have fueled fears of another problem: civil war aside. whole.
The Karen National Union, which controls an area in the southeast along the Thai border, confirmed on Monday that around 10,000 residents fled to a safe area last weekend after the Burmese army carried out airstrikes that killed three people. The fighter jets came out in retaliation for an attack by ethnic Karen rebels on a national army base, or Tatmadaw, in which 10 soldiers were killed and eight others arrested.
The attacks came on the same day that at least 114 people were killed in clashes with the military and police during the deadliest weekend since the February 1 coup, prompting condemnation of the governments around the world. With the death toll now exceeding 500 in the past two months, the prospect of a larger fight with potentially dozens of armed militias risks even more bloodshed.
“There is a distinct possibility that mass protests will turn into civil war or interstate war,” said Lee Morgenbesser, a professor at Griffith University in Australia whose research on Southeast Asian politics. “Given the sometimes porous nature of Myanmar’s borders, as well as the fact that armed ethnic groups are not subject to state authority, the crisis is likely to spill over international borders.”
On Sunday, a dozen defense chiefs from North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific jointly condemned the use of lethal force against unarmed people. Then on Monday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha of neighboring Thailand said preparations had started for an influx of migrants.
“We don’t want there to be massive migration to our areas, but we also need to keep human rights in mind,” said Prayut, a former army chief who staged a coup State in 2014. “As there are violent conflicts in their country, it is normal for there to be migration. “
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian also reiterated a call for all sides to defuse the situation, while declining to comment on the prospect of a civil war. China shares a 2,100 kilometer border with Myanmar.
“Violence and bloodshed are not in anyone’s best interest,” Zhao said.
Protesters and key allies of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi called on Myanmar’s many armed ethnic groups to come together to confront a common enemy in Tatmadaw. The Kachin Independence Army, another armed group that urged the military to end its crackdown on protesters, launched deadly attacks on at least four police battalions in Kachin state on Sunday. , according to Myanmar Now.
Since gaining independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar has struggled to build a national identity integrating its many minority groups, fueling resentment against the military – dominated by the Bamar, or ethnic Burmese – and perpetuating some of the oldest armed conflicts in the country. the world.
Myanmar has hundreds if not thousands of armed militias in a country where the state recognizes 135 distinct ethnic groups, according to a report released last year by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Of these, some 20 ethnic armed groups have both political and military wings.
A parallel administration set up by members of Suu Kyi’s allies, known as the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, or CRPH, agreed with the main ethnic groups on the need for a unity government that would compete for legitimacy with the junta, according to Dr. Sasa, who bears a name and describes himself as the envoy representing Myanmar’s ousted parliament to the United Nations.
The CRPH is working with several ethnic groups on drafting the text of a new constitution, Sasa said in an interview last week, without naming them. This would include progress towards a long-held goal of a federal army that would allow ethnic minorities to retain their own armed forces, he said.
A federal army has “become essential,” Sasa said, adding that rank and file soldiers could join the new organization instead of suppressing protests under the Tatmadaw name. “The government that we are going to form in April will be called the government of national unity, so we would like to be as inclusive as possible,” he said.
Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing sought to reach out to various ethnic armies to prevent them from regrouping. Earlier this month, he pulled the Arakan army off a list of terrorist groups following clashes in which it fought for greater autonomy in the western part of the state. by Rakhine.
In response to the KNU attack on Saturday, state broadcaster MRTV said the KNU assured the junta that a rogue brigade was responsible for the strike and gave the green light to the Tatmadaw to retaliate. . Efforts to reach Phado Kwe Htoo Win, the KNU vice president, failed.
While the Karen National Union said last week it had received an invitation to meet Min Aung Hlaing, it does not plan to do so until after the military responds to a series of requests including the transfer of power to a government. national unity.
“For the sake of our country in which we grew up together and for the benefit of the people, the KNU awaits the implementation of the above demands,” reads the letter signed by KNU President General Saw Mutu Sae Poe.
In a time of both disinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing you can help us make the right story.