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The Hindu
The Hindu

War in Myanmar: On the junta and restoring democracy

A coordinated offensive by Myanmar’s ethnic rebels against the junta in several parts of the country late last month is the clearest sign yet that the coup regime’s hands are overstretched. The Three Brotherhood Alliance, a coalition of ethnic minority armed groups, has claimed to have made territorial gains on Myanmar’s border with China and dozens of junta forces surrendering. Clashes have erupted in the restive Rakhine State, and Chin State that borders India. Faced with battlefield setbacks, the junta’s response has been to carry out air strikes, causing heavy civilian casualties. In a rare acknowledgement of the challenges, Myint Swe, the military-appointed President, said recently that “It is necessary to carefully control this issue (rebel offensive)”. When the military toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, its first step was to use force to establish order. It jailed most of the pro-democracy politicians, including Ms. Suu Kyi, and unleashed a violent crackdown on protests. Since then, over 4,000 civilians and pro-democracy activists have been killed by the military and some 20,000 people jailed, according to advocacy groups. The UN estimates that 1.7 million people have been forced out of their homes. But the junta’s violence has done little in stabilising the country.

Myanmar has faced violence by ethnic minorities for decades. But in the past, the main political contradiction in Burmese society was the peaceful struggle by the pro-democracy movement, led by Ms. Suu Kyi. This time, the pro-democracy movement gave up the Suu Kyian model of peaceful resistance, formed an underground government, established a militia wing and joined hands with the ethnic rebels — an outcome the coup regime did not anticipate. Over two years, new political realities have emerged. The rebels have made substantial territorial gains and kept multiple fronts open, maintaining operational pressure points on the junta. The generals are also facing regional isolation, especially in ASEAN. The new rebel offensive and territorial losses point to the mounting woes of Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s regime. The junta does not have any easy options. A military solution looks improbable. The junta has not come forward for talks; but the rebels, led by a diverse new generation of leaders, have asked the generals to retreat from politics and then hold talks to find peace. They demand a federal democratic system with greater autonomy for ethnic minority regions. If the violence continues, especially in areas bordering India and China, it will have regional repercussions. Major regional players, along with ASEAN, should play a more proactive role to achieve a ceasefire in Myanmar, setting the stage for meaningful dialogue that is aimed at restoring democracy and freedoms.

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