Burma on the brink of civil war: the politics

Ethnic groups’ calls for peace are met with further threats from the country’s military rulers

The month of April saw Burma draw severely close to widespread civil war. Continued demands from the country’s dictators on all non-state armed groups to join the national forces continue to be rejected, leaving over a dozen decades-old ceasefires perilously under threat. In a country where civilians are routinely targeted by the government as part of military strategy, the expected outcomes are nothing short of horrific.

Ceasefire Zones of Northern Burma

On April 28th, the final deadline passed for all of Burma’s ceasefire armies to accept the junta’s Border Guard Force plan, a process that aims to bring them under direct state control and work to eradicate all remaining insurgents. Determined to stay autonomous until their people are given the rights to civil, political and humane justice, almost all groups have rejected the plan calling for a political dialogue to achieve national reconciliation.

During the month of April, numerous statements were made by ethnic leaders calling for peaceful solutions to the nation’s protracted military and political tensions. However these requests have been met with persistent threats of violence from the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) forcing the groups to prepare for battle. This was seen most recently on April 30th in Kachin State following 2-day talks between the Kachin Independence Organsiation (KIO) and the SPDC. A statement made by KIO leaders stating that they would like to“continue with the ceasefire and work for a genuine federal union with equal rights between majority and minorities in the country”, was shortly followed by a public threat to eliminate the group for rejecting the SPDC’s plan.

Meanwhile, SPDC troops are being deployed across the country close to regions administered by ceasefire armies and a number of clashes have already taken place, some of which it has claimed were accidental.

While the SPDC’s demands have brought some non-state armed groups closer together, others have become divided leading to speculation about conflict worsening within various ethnic groups. The Shan State Army- North (SSA-North) which signed a ceasefire agreement in 1989 has become divided over whether to accede to SPDC demands. While its headquarters announced  that around 700 troops would transform to become a Border Guard Force, its strongest faction, 1st brigade remains defiant and has already been accused of launching an attack on SPDC troops en route to its territory.

The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which has been aligned with the SPDC for over 15 years, has also become divided over the plan, with some generals strongly opposed and others ready to sign . On Tuesday 27th, a sort bout of fighting broke out between the two armies, leading to the arrival of 10 more SPDC battalions to the region and a mass exodus of civilians. While no high-ranking generals have publicly denounced the plan, hundreds of soldiers are said to have defected and sought refuge with the Karen National Union, an insurgent groups that remains at war with the SPDC.

Leading the pro-agreement faction is General Chit Htu, leader of the notorious 999 Brigade. Chit Htu has become one the SPDCs closest allies in recent years, making vast profits from natural resources while terrorizing ans exploiting tens of thousands of civilians under his jurisdiction.

For years ethnic regions in Burma have been divided by armed forces which align themselves with the SPDC and those that continue to fight the regime. In many of these regions, such armies have been able to  keep conflict to a minimum by purposely avoiding each other. However, as the SPDC has increased pressure to force groups to work for or against them, this has become increasingly difficult. Such practices will become impossible if the Border Guard Force plan moves forward as SPDC commanders will be implemented in each battalion, giving the regime far greater control over its proxy forces.

After almost a year of threats from the SPDC, speculation that conflict would reignite appears to be becoming a reality. Everyday seems to take Burma a step closer to widespread civil war and it is fast becoming a question of not if but when.


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