Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 354, 31 March 2021

Myanmar: Bloodiest week, Armed Forces Day celebration and the resurgence of ethnic conflicts
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

In the news
On 27 March, more than 100 people were killed by the security forces in a day. On the same day, the regime celebrated Armed Forces Day; it was attended by representatives from eight countries - Russia, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and India. On the same day, the Chiefs of Defence of Australia, Canada, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States released a joint statement condemning the violence in Myanmar. 

On 29 March, the Karen National Union (KNU) declared not cooperating with the current government. The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) had blocked the food supply to Tatmadaw stationed in the region. On 26 March, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) seized Myanmar's strategic outpost near the Chinese border. On 31 March, the Brotherhood alliance comprising of three ethnic armed forces (National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA) declared war against the Tatmadaw. 

This week, the violence and airstrikes have resulted in an exodus of more than 10,000 to the neighbouring countries. On 31 March, Thailand refused the Myanmarese refugees to enter its territory. On the other hand, Manipur, an Indian State, re-tracked its order and allowed the refugees to enter through Tamu, a small-town connecting Myanmar to India. 
Issues at large
First, the escalating State violence becomes evident. Compared to earlier weeks, this week has witnessed a surge in violence. The fatality was 200 in February;  in March, it has doubled and now is more than 500. This includes several children within the 5-15 age group. Shooting anybody in the road, plain cloth military personnel with ammunitions, killing and burning people during night raids, burning houses and attacking people during funerals have become the regime's strategy.   

Second, the Armed Forces Day celebration showcasing the regime's assertion and power. The presence of foreign dignitaries was a part of a strategy to showcase its international support. The Russian deputy defence chief, though, said that Moscow does not support violence, but the support towards the regime is evident. A statement made by Thailand's Prime Minister in Bangkok also underlines the same; regarding Thailand's participation in the above Armed Forces Day, he clarified that Thailand does not support violence but wants to maintain a good equation with the government regarding the refugee problem.

Third, the resurgence of ethnic conflict and a new refugee exodus. The ethnic conflicts in Myanmar are not new; however, the NLD government successfully brought the ten ethnic groups to sign NCA. These groups earlier declared to cooperate with the military but now have started attacking the latter. KNU was one the largest groups to have signed NCA but have declared that they do not recognize the present government.  This new development is leading to an exodus with people escaping to the neighbouring countries.

In perspective
In the coming weeks, the violence is likely to increase; the showcasing of the military power in the Armed Forces Day and the presence of international participants projects the strategy that the regime is likely to pursue in using force. Second, the continuing street protests and the statements from the ethnic groups highlight the likely response from the people and the ethnic groups. Third, the above developments led by the State and the ethnic groups are likely to create a new exodus into the neighbouring countries.

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