Bringing War Closer to Home
A coalition of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) conducted an audacious counteroffensive after months of pressure by the Myanmar military. The attacks by three members of the Northern Alliance – the Arakan Army (AA), the ethnic Kokang, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) – on 15 August on the Myanmar military’s Defense Services Technological Academy in Pyin Oo Lwin, near Mandalay, as well as toll gates and police outposts near Naung Cho, Shan State, have left 15 people dead. The attacks have stunned many because for many years the war has been mostly confined to rural, borderland areas, with ethnic minorities bearing the brunt of the violence. Now that the consequences of the Myanmar military’s brutal wars against non-Bamar ethnic communities have come closer to home for the Bamar majority society and struck at the heart of the military itself, the cost to innocent civilians’ lives has been brought into sharper focus.
The surprise attacks on the Defense Services Technological Academy, one component of the Defense Services Academy training complex in the military’s stronghold of Pyin Oo Lwin, was in response to the Myanmar military’s repeated violations of the ceasefire that it had announced unilaterally and was in place until the end of August 2019. Brigadier General Tar Phone Kyaw of the TNLA, told news outlet The Irrawaddy, “We asked them to stop their military offensive in Rakhine. But they did not stop it. We asked them to stop their offensive into our area, but they keep doing it. Therefore, we had to launch a counteroffensive.”
Resulting retaliations and a surge in armed conflict in nearby townships in Shan State is having devastating effects on local people. In Mong Yu, a village in Kutkai Township, villagers are trapped due to nearby fighting, with two people needing urgent medical attention after being shot while travelling on the nearby roads. On 17 August, U Tun Myint, the head of an emergency response group, the Lashio Youth Support Social Association, was killed while driving back from a village after attempting to help people caught up in the fighting. Over 2,500 people have become internally displaced persons (IDPs), taking shelter in monasteries and churches.
It seems the attacks by the EAOs are not only a strategic counteroffensive to relieve the military pressure on the AA in Rakhine State. They also represent a statement that there is only so much that ethnic groups can tolerate before they will bring the theatre of war closer to home. EAOs have always possessed the capability to launch such attacks, but the fact they are doing so now symbolizes the complete failure of the current peace process and the corner that they have been pushed into by the Myanmar military. Despite the announcement of the unilateral ceasefire in the north – itself intended more as a strategic ceasefire on the part of the military to concentrate efforts in Rakhine State – attacks have in fact been ongoing. The death of a civilian in the 15 August attacks and the civilian fatalities in the subsequent fallout are reverberating much louder today than the deaths of ethnic people, murdered by the Myanmar military on an almost daily basis for many decades.
The Myanmar military can no longer hide its brutal war against ethnic minorities far away from the majority Bamar population and it is hoped that this will be the catalyst for a new approach to peace. This new approach must recognize the urgent need to rein in the Myanmar military and to end its impunity for decades of abuses. The civilian government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi must act now to prove its long-stated political will for national reconciliation and end this decades-long civil war by bringing the military under civilian control and engaging in substantive peace talks that address the real grievances of ethnic nationalities. Otherwise, it is likely that attacks such as those of 15 August can be seen again and again, and civilians will continue to suffer and peace will remain a far fetched dream for people of Myanmar.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
Resources from the past week
Statements and Press Releases
By Arakan National Council
By KNU Concerned Group
By International Karen Organization
By Transnational Institute (TNI)
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”