Myanmar’s military control weakens as anti-coup forces advance: Report | Conflict news

Expert analyzes find that ethnic armed groups and anti-coup forces are consolidating their positions seven months after launching a major offensive.

Myanmar’s military regime has lost control of more parts of the Southeast Asian country, particularly along its borders, since anti-coup forces formed an alliance to mount a new offensive in late October last year, according to the latest update from a group of prominent international experts.

The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M) said in a report released on Thursday that the overall trajectory of the conflict in Myanmar since 2022 had been one of “expanding resistance control in the face of corresponding military junta losses.”

That process had “intensified rapidly since October 2023,” he said.

Since armed ethnic groups and anti-coup fighters known as the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) began Operation 1027 last year, they have made significant gains, taking military outposts and border towns in the north and east, along the border with China and Thailand, as well as in the west, where Myanmar meets Bangladesh and India.

The SAC-M said the generals had lost complete authority over townships that cover 86 percent of the country’s territory and are home to 67 percent of Myanmar’s 55 million people.

“Resistance to junta control remains strong, widespread and deeply rooted,” he said.

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing launched a coup in February 2021, seizing power from the elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has since been tried in a secret military court and imprisoned.

The takeover sparked mass protests that evolved into an armed rebellion after the military responded with force. At least 5,161 civilians have been killed since the coup and more than 20,500 are imprisoned, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been following developments since the coup.

The SAC-M said that the military could not be considered either a legitimate (de jure) or de facto government.

“The military junta does not control enough territory in Myanmar to fulfill the basic duties of the state,” the report says.

Of the 51 municipalities with international borders, the SAC-M said only one, with a population of 7,000 in the Himalayan foothills, was under “stable control of the junta.” Thirty municipalities were assessed to have at least 90 percent control by anti-coup forces, including 14 where the military’s opponents had secured full control.

Fighting last month between Karen armed groups and the army caused thousands to flee, with some crossing the border into Thailand (Somrerk Kosolwitthayanant/EPA)

Fragmented country

The SAC-M’s assessment of the situation was shared by Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization that tracks emerging and ongoing conflicts.

In a report published on Thursday, it is stated that the main beneficiaries of the events of the last seven months have been armed ethnic groups, most of which have been fighting the army for years.

“Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups are securing on the battlefield the self-governing lands they have long sought,” said Richard Horsey, Crisis Group’s senior adviser on Myanmar, warning of the potential implications for a future federal democracy that is the objective of many of those who are in the PDF and the Government of National Unity (GUN) that established them.

He urged Myanmar’s neighbors and the international community to engage with the multiple groups vying for power “taking into account conflict risks and human rights concerns.”

Meanwhile, SAC-M experts said the conflict demands that more be done to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians whose lives have been changed.

The United Nations estimates that more than three million people have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the fighting, and the SAC-M said more needs to be done to protect people from the violence, much of it perpetrated by the army.

“The junta is by far the main source of violence and instability and of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” the report says. “It shows no willingness to meet the demands of the democratic revolution, only a commitment to greater violence and repression.”

The military has been accused of war crimes for continued airstrikes on civilian villages and the deliberate burning of homes.

Some of the armed groups have also been involved in atrocities.

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