Commentary: As Myanmar coup persists, ethnic armed groups come under greater pressure to act

SINGAPORE: Since the Myanmar navy’s Feb 1 coup, the Tatmadaw has killed greater than 500 civilians throughout the nation.

This has heightened conversations in regards to the position of Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) in the way forward for the nation — when, if in any respect, will they intervene towards the navy coup?

Observers and activists of the civil disobedience motion and civilian resistance to the navy coup have referred to as for broad multi-ethnic unity that attracts on quite a lot of groups and actors from all ethnicities and areas.

The militarised model of this argument seeks the involvement of the nation’s 20 or so EAOs in a collective bid to put navy pressure on the Tatmadaw from all fronts, even invoking the spirit of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), a world norm authorising drive to defend civilians from crimes towards humanity.

There has additionally been speculative discuss of a Federal Army that mixes EAO components and Burmese resistors right into a collective armed rebellion.

READ: Commentary: Has Myanmar coup sparked rethinking on non-interference among ASEAN countries?


Myanmar’s rebel EAOs, positioned primarily within the peripheral highlands of the nation, quantity round 80,000 in preventing energy.

By comparability, estimates of the dimensions of Tatmadaw forces are stated to attain 400,000. Still, EAOs just like the Arakan Army (AA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have triggered notable issues for the Tatmadaw lately by navy operations.

While the EAOs had not been initially forthcoming of their help for the resistance, statements condemning the coup or calling for the safety of civilians are rising. The Karen National Union (KNU), the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), and the New Mon State Party (NMSP), and the KIA have condemned the navy coup, providing safety to protesters fleeing safety forces.

Ten earlier signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement have introduced the suspension of negotiations with the Tatmadaw. The Karen and Kachin groups have begun taking restricted hostile actions towards close by Tatmadaw forces, with reprisal assaults main to the displacement of hundreds of Karen refugees into Thailand.

To the north, the Brotherhood Alliance, whose unilateral ceasefire expired on Mar 31, has solely said cryptically that it’s going to “stand alongside” the protestors ought to the Tatmadaw not stop its killings.

But many different EAOs have remained largely silent.

READ: Commentary: Defiance in Myanmar’s diplomatic ranks threatens the military’s power


A pure rationalization for this reticence is that many EAOs are mendacity low and never throwing of their lot with both facet at this stage.

Statements of help for the coup will change little — it builds no dependable capital with the Tatmadaw; it should solely make enemies with the Myanmar folks. Strong statements condemning the coup run the chance of making grudges with the notoriously vindictive navy which could nicely prevail.

READ: Commentary: Myanmar learnt the wrong lessons from Indonesia’s political transition

Another rationalization is that the EAOs stay indifferent from what they see because the Burmans’ struggle — seven many years of civil conflict and the marginalisation of ethnic minorities on the nation’s borders have left them suspicious of any requires solidarity led by the Bamar majority — civilian or in any other case.

As David Scott Mathieson, an unbiased analyst, factors out: 

The CRPH [representatives of the ousted parliamentarians] not too long ago eliminated all EAOs in Myanmar from their terrorist and illegal associations listing, which is a welcome gesture, however many groups will surprise why the NLD [Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy] didn’t grant extra of those good-will gestures whereas in energy from 2016-2020.


Perhaps the EAOs merely can’t see the advantage of dedication at this stage, with two historic precedents absolutely weighing on their minds.

First, within the interval after the 1988 navy coup and the crackdown on pro-democracy protests at city centres, the EAOs on the peripheries had been supplied a slew of bilateral ceasefires by beleaguered Tatmadaw leaders, who wanted to purchase respiratory area.

In truth, the Tatmadaw introduced a unilateral month-long ceasefire from 31 March.

Second, the EAOs recall the failures of previous pan-ethnic alliances (which included Burmans) — the Democratic Alliance of Burma of the Nineteen Nineties, and even the Communist Party of Burma within the Seventies to Eighties.

The Myanmar military?s deadly crackdown on anti-coup protests has angered some of the country?s

The Myanmar navy’s lethal crackdown on anti-coup protests has angered a few of the nation’s ethnic armed groups, prompting fears a broader battle might erupt. (Photo: AFP)

Outside of the NLD and Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the political panorama is crammed with political events divided alongside ethnic strains.


Yet seeing the EAOs as calculating actors dangers lowering them to cynical opportunists.

The EAO leaderships aren’t actually indifferent; they perceive nicely the implications of divide-and-rule; they’ve a real curiosity within the well-being of the nation that they finally see themselves as a part of. This is very so with the youthful era among the many ethnic minorities.

But earlier than calling for EAO involvement, political actors ought to higher perceive the variations between the 20-odd groups. Some are extra aligned with China, others with the West — every bringing their very own political baggage and worldviews to the combo.

The vary of navy capabilities and modus operandi is nice, as are their governing mechanisms.

READ: Commentary: Thailand as a model? Why Myanmar military may follow Prayuth’s example

READ: Commentary: Myanmar protesters are not giving up so easily

One also needs to watch out what one needs for. Can all EAOs actually be seen as fashionable actions with the help of the folks, or are they merely the ethnic minority model of the Tatmadaw? Are they one other duplication of militarised or oppressive energy buildings?

While their navy energy was absolutely wanted to stop Tatmadaw encroachment previously, what potential for inner reform do they maintain?

This has been a real energy of the Tatmadaw — it not solely created completely different ethnic constituencies who don’t simply see their fates and pursuits as intertwined, however replicated its extractive militarised buildings of governance everywhere in the nation.

The coup and resistance could hopefully provide a chance to rewrite this previous.

Dr Andrew Ong is an Associate Fellow on the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  This commentary first appeared on ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute’s Fulcrum.


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