Will Myanmar cease-fire hold?
Despite the China-led peace talks between opposition & junta forces, the situation remains delicate. Myanmar has been in chaos ever since the military overthrew the democratically elected government
The recently China-brokered cease-fire between Myanmar's armed opposition groups and the ruling military does not mean the conflict will stop, analysts say.
The joint Three Brotherhood Alliance — an alliance between the Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army formed in June 2019 and supported by the pro-democracy civilian-led government and defense forces — has been the biggest threat to the Myanmar junta since a coup nearly three years ago.
Myanmar has been in chaos ever since General Min Aung Hlaing and his military forces overthrew the democratically elected government in February 2021. The coup sparked an armed conflict between the civilian-led National Unity Government, people defense forces and ethnic armed groups.
The conflict was seen as a war of attrition until a sweeping offensive that began with Operation 1027 in October, with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA) from Myanmar's Shan State joining forces. Their aim has been to remove military rule in disputed territories, and in nearly three months, dozens of townships and hundreds of junta-held military bases have been captured. The offensive has also spread to other regions and states in Myanmar.
Kyaw Hsan Hlaing, a political analyst from Myanmar. says the recent offensive has now motivated opposing groups throughout the country to battle back.
"The success of Operation 1027 has been a historical milestone for the Myanmar resistance and civil war, marking the major achievement in taking down several cities. This accomplishment has motivated the rest of the major resistance groups across the country," he said.
One the biggest successes from the rebel offensive so far is the capture of Laukkai, the capital of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone, which is along the Myanmar-China border, with the MNDAA claiming control of the city earlier this month.
The conflict in the region has caught the attention of China because of trade disruptions and an increase in refugees on its border with Myanmar. Beijing has twice failed to broker a cease-fire to reduce further risks.
But earlier this month China's foreign ministry confirmed peace talks had taken place between alliance and junta representatives in Kunming, a city in China, and that "an immediate cease-fire" had been agreed with all parties agreeing to call a halt to fighting in their given locations.
Cease-fire not being adhered to
Kyaw Hsan Hlaing says despite the truce, and attempts for previous cease-fires, it hasn't completely stopped the fighting.
"I think the current truce won't mark the end of the war between the alliance and junta forces," Hlaing told DW. "However, the war might cease in the Kokang area for a while. Before the current truce between the alliance and junta forces, they had at least two meetings brokered by China, but no results were achieved. The alliance continued fighting until it achieved its military objectives, especially a full seizure of Laukkai."
A cease-fire was unable to fully hold according to a statement from the Three Brotherhood Alliance. Only days after the agreed truce, Myanmar army troops had allegedly fired grenades towards alliance forces in Kachin, prompting opposition forces to fire back in retaliation.
But if the cease-fire is to stay intact moving forward, it needs to benefit all, said Kyaw Hsan Hlaing.
"The current cease-fire is only in the favor of MNDAA, which would allow the group to manage its troops in all seized areas and begin its governance mechanism. And for China, its goal of breaking down in Laukkai can be assumed as fulfilled. One of the main objectives of the operation 1027 is to crack down on online scams and gambling in Laukkai, which is now under MNDAA control."
Laukkai has become infamous for its gambling, prostitution and online scams in Myanmar, with organized crime leaders targeting Chinese nationals to work under slave-like conditions to work for their illegal operations. China authorities have been determined to eradicate the cyber gangs and the trafficking of its citizens, but its requests to the Myanmar military government did not garner a successful conclusion. Since the MNDAA took control of Kokang, they say their forces have raided over 300 scam centers and 40,000 Chinese nationals have been repatriated.
Bad timing for the cease-fire
As for those opposing the Myanmar military, with fighting still escalating elsewhere, a cease-fire may have come at the wrong time. Anti-junta supporters had hoped the military's control was reeling nationwide, and that the junta's losses would propel the operation to expand into Myanmar's key urban cities. With a cease-fire in place, questions remain over whether the momentum will continue.
But David Scott Mathieson, a Myanmar analyst, says a cease-fire won't determine the opposition alliance's strategy moving forward.
"I don't think so... so far it's not amounted to much, and should be viewed as a weak agreement that provides a flimsy pretense of peace talks," he told DW. "I think it's impossible to predict where the conflict is going, although it is worth considering that any change in momentum by the [Three Brotherhood Alliance] will be determined by their multiple strategies, not through outside pressure."
As for Operation 1027, Mathieson insists the gains from the offensive have already been significant.
"In some ways the damage from Operation 1027 has already been accomplished, with so much territory overrun, bases and equipment captured, and the Myanmar army unable to retake any of it back. Operation 1027 hasn't been confined to Northern Shan State, but an almost unprecedented campaign of fighting in Chin and Rakhine State with the Arakan Army. Fighting in Karenni, Kachin and Pegu also continues, as does Chin and Sagaing," Mathieson continued.
"Their massive defense factories might be able to manufacture armaments and supplies and keep the air force flying, but it's the broader degrading of the infantry that should worry the military leadership, and the impact on morale and prestige. However, a military diminished is not necessarily defeated, not yet," he added.
The UN says the number of displaced exceeds two million overall since the coup in February 2021. Nearly 4,400 people have been killed by the military with over 25,000 people arrested, according to rights groups.
Published: 26 Jan 2024, 12:36 PM