DEFEXPO 2022 INDIA Ministry of Defence

 

Myanmar's escalating internal conflict has regional repercussions

Myanmar's military junta is facing fierce resistance from various ethnic minorities. A shadow government, called National Unity Government (NUG), was formed to counter the military government. The shadow government has already appealed to the international community for support, to which the United States, the European Union and ASEAN member states have responded.

Tilottama Rani Charulata Oct 11, 2022
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Myanmar military leaders (Photo: Twitter)

Geographically, Myanmar's location is strategically important. After gaining independence from the British in 1948, the country suffered from long military rule. Myanmar has a long history of conflict between the military and the government with various regional ethnic groups but it has become more widespread in recent times. The military coup in February 2021 has plunged the country into a crisis with strained ethnic relations and a resurgence of civil war. 

According to geopolitical analysts, Myanmar's governance is essentially divided into three entities. The first is the State Administration Council (SAC) or the body of top officials engaged in the governance of the country; the second is the body of senior military officers; and finally the cabinet. However, Min Aung Hlaing, as the head of the armed forces and the leader of the coup, overshadowed these entities and gradually amassed power. By issuing martial law, the State has absolute power. The military junta is using torture and killing as a weapon to suppress any dissent against the government following the policy of autocracy. It has also enacted a series of draconian laws to consolidate its grip on power, threatening the legal protections and fundamental rights of the Myanmar people. 

In addition, internet access is limited and online newspapers and social media platforms are blocked. Recently, a new law has been issued there, where liking or sharing an anti-government post on social media is punishable by imprisonment.

Distressed economy

In February last year, Myanmar's military government declared a state of emergency for the first time since taking power. In August, the state of emergency was extended for another six months. The junta's main priority is to stay in power at any cost. As a result, the country's economy is now in a state of crisis, and the people have to pay the price. After the imposition of military rule in the post-coup period, the country was subjected to a Western economic embargo. Foreign aid and investment were suspended. As a result, the country's reserves have been decreasing since last April. Due to the internal crisis and the war in Ukraine, the prices of everyday products are increasing. On the other hand, many people are not paying electricity bills, and no one is paying taxes as part of the non-violent movement supported by the NLD government. The government's revenue collection has fallen to the bottom. The country's economy has shrunk by nearly 20 per cent in the past year. 

According to a report published by the International Labor Organization (ILO) last January, by the end of 2021, half of the country's population or about two and a half million people are below the poverty line, 1.6 million people or about eight per cent of the total workforce have lost their jobs, and about 1.3 million people are at risk of food insecurity. . On the other hand, in view of the global and domestic crisis, the value of the Kyat, the currency of Myanmar, continues to fall against the dollar. On February 1, 2021, one dollar was available at 1,395 kyats, which has now increased by more than 40 per cent to 2,113 kyats. 

According to the British magazine Economist, the country's central bank decided to sell 10 per cent of its reserves to prevent the fall of the kyat. In this situation, the military junta is trying to retain reserves by imposing currency controls and import bans. As a result, people are deprived of essential services like medicines.

Declining power of junta

Myanmar's military junta is facing fierce resistance from various ethnic minorities. A shadow government, called National Unity Government (NUG), was formed to counter the military government. The shadow government has already appealed to the international community for support, to which the United States, the European Union and ASEAN member states have responded. The NUG also formed a guerrilla force called the People's Defense Force (PDF), which was formed to counter the military's brutal crackdown on protesters. As a result, the government has to fight against various ethnic groups in the border provinces, while on the other hand it has to face pro-democracy forces in various provinces inside the country. 

Because of this, the government is facing deep problems in establishing political control in Myanmar. The military junta is diplomatically losing acceptance with the rest of the world due to authoritarian tactics and brutal repression. 

Ethnic armed insurgent groups operating in Myanmar have become stronger than before. They are now having a lot of success in fighting the army and the area they control is also increasing. Armed groups from different ethnic groups have stepped up cooperation among themselves to overthrow the junta. News website The Irrawaddy reported that members of Myanmar's top seven armed ethnic groups met in September in Pangsang, Wa state, amid rising violence. At the same time, the anti-military Myanmar people are fighting against the government by joining the activities of various insurgents and armed groups.

Alarming situation

According to a statement by Myanmar's Special Advisory Council, only 72 of the country's 330 townships are now under the junta's control. As a percentage that is only 17 per cent of the total land area; 52 per cent is under NUG and various ethnic groups and no party has absolute control over the rest of the region. 

The Myanmar army is in a very tight position in Rakhine. More than two-thirds of Rakhine State's land area is now under the control of the Arakan Army. According to the NUG statement, more than 20,150 soldiers of the army were killed in the clashes from September 7, 2021 to September 2022. 

Myanmar's military is dominated by the Bama ethnic group. But the recent military operation in Bama-dominated areas has created anti-junta sentiment among them. More than 2,000 soldiers and 5,000 police officers have defected since the coup, according to the People's Embrace group. Along with the loss of lives and troops, the army also lost control of several military outposts. In the last 17 months, Myanmar's military junta has lost control of about 90 military posts to armed groups from various ethnic groups in the country.

After the military coup in 2021, people from all walks of life in Myanmar participated peacefully in the anti-junta movement. But due to the retaliatory brutal repression by the Min Aung Hlaing administration, the peaceful movement turned into armed resistance, which continues to this day. The conflict is escalating. Added to this is the country's economic crisis and insurgency by ethnic armed groups in border areas. 

All in all, an anarchic situation prevails across the country. As the days go by, along with the overall situation in Myanmar, the position of the junta is also weakening. In this situation, the intervention of the international community is necessary to restore peace and stability in Myanmar, which can otherwise have serious implications for the region.

(The author is a Canada-based independent researcher on Bangladesh and Rohingya refugee affairs. Views are personal. She can be contacted at tilottomarani99@gmail.com)

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