The new year is starting with more victories for the Spring Revolution, including unprecedented territorial and military gains in northern Shan State, further development of local governance and service provision, and military junta forces increasingly demoralized. Yet, like a wounded animal, the junta is lashing out in retaliation, with large numbers of indiscriminate airstrikes, massacres and other atrocities inflicted upon the people of Myanmar. While the momentum is with the Spring Revolution forces, both military and non-military, it is inevitable that the junta will only exacerbate the political, human rights, and humanitarian crisis that it has created to annihilate the resistance and collectively punish the broader civilian population. It is imperative therefore that international actors support the democratic will of the Myanmar people with their unprecedented sacrifices and unwavering determination, whilst ensuring that emergency humanitarian aid is supported to be delivered from the people to the people.
On 4 January, Laukkai, the capital of Kokang Self-Administered Zone, was liberated by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) after weeks of fighting. In what is the largest defeat for the junta since the coup attempt of 1 February 2021, junta soldiers stationed at the Laukkai Regional Operations Command Center, numbering almost 2,400, surrendered en masse, and were joined by over 1,600 of their family members. This comes just days after the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which is allied with the MNDAA as part of the Three Brotherhood Alliance, took a strategic military outpost, Thanbo, in Nawnghkio Township, alongside the Mandalay People’s Defense Force (PDF). Thanbo is just 24 km away from the town of Pyin Oo Lwin, a military town where the junta’s two defense academies are located. This adds to the increasing number of towns in northern Shan State that the TNLA has taken, with Manton, Mongngawt, and Namtu also liberated in late December. In the west of Myanmar, the Arakan Army, also a member of the Three Brotherhood Alliance, is taking several important military bases in northern Rakhine and southern Chin States, with over 200 junta troops surrendering from a hilltop base in Kyauktaw Township and others fleeing to India.
Yet, as the junta loses more ground, it is escalating its retaliation against the people. The National Unity Government (NUG) has documented 86 mass killings in 2023, up from 44 in 2022, causing the death of 1,342 civilians. And this is continuing just in the first few days of 2024. In early January, for example, five civilians were killed including a child, as a junta jet launched two airstrikes on a village in Sagaing Region’s Taze Township. Rakhine areas are experiencing airstrikes almost on a daily basis as the junta reacts to losses there. Junta airstrikes on a resistance-controlled village near Khampat killed 17 people, including nine children, on the morning of 7 January. The town of Kawlin, Sagaing Region, which was liberated by a combined force of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and PDFs in November and is now being administered by the NUG, is being bombarded by heavy artillery from nearby junta bases, with civilians killed and town residents displaced. The shelling of Kawlin’s market on 2 January killed six people, just days after four people including two children were killed in junta artillery attacks. Furthermore, the junta is blocking the supply of food and other essentials into the town.
None of this should be a surprise, not only because of the recent and long-term history of the Myanmar military’s war crimes and crimes against humanity, but also its explicit threats. During talks between the junta and the Three Brotherhood Alliance on 23 December in Kunming, China, Lieutenant-General Min Naing of the junta’s so-called Peacemaking Negotiation Committee threatened the resistance groups with “Even if you can militarily seize towns and villages in ethnic areas, your regions will never be peaceful. We will always carry out air raids using the sophisticated weapons we have.”
The junta has no compulsions against perpetrating atrocity crimes and displacing civilians as it desperately tries to assert its diminishing power. Indeed, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are over 2.3 million people who have been displaced since the junta’s coup attempt, bringing the total to 2.6 million. However, given OCHA’s lack of access to the ground, these numbers are almost certainly much higher. And as the resistance forces make more gains, the junta’s retaliation will also only grow, thus even further increasing the number of displaced population. The documented massacres, airstrikes, and other forms of collective punishment such as weaponization of aid will only continue to increase. It is imperative therefore that humanitarian aid from international actors reaches these populations via the trusted networks and civil society organizations that have been on the frontline in liberated and contested areas to deliver such assistance. They have the legitimacy, expertise, capacity, trust of communities in need, and access to border regions and beyond, including central parts of the country, via cross-border and localized channels that the junta and UN agencies, which partner with the junta, simply do not. Such genuine locally led aid provision must be recognized and scaled up.
The Myanmar people have had enough of this violent, illegitimate military junta, and have made immense sacrifices in the nearly three years since the failed coup attempt to dismantle the military and build a new federal democracy. But, going into 2024, there is a sense of optimism among the Myanmar public catalyzed by the successes of the Operation 1027 and complementary operations. The people are building the new Myanmar based on grassroots democracy, with the recent convening of the Sagaing Forum, which brings together different revolutionary actors together, being just the latest example of this. Moving into 2024, the momentum is with the Myanmar people – momentum built on nearly three years of brave and courageous work, determination and a dignified struggle that has been largely overlooked globally. With more meaningful and substantial support from international actors, and with even more cooperation and coordination among revolutionary organizations, not only can the corrupt and atrocious military be dismantled, but preparations for transitional arrangements for their common political agenda of genuine federal democracy can be achieved. This momentum can translate into liberation, systemic change, and the establishment of an inclusive federal democracy with genuine peace.
 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.
By 16 Organizations
စစ်အုပ်စုထံ စီးဝင်မည့် သွေးစွန်းခွန်များအား တားဆီးနိုင်ရန် မိမိတို့ တတ်နိုင်သည့်နည်းလမ်းများဖြင့် ဘက်ပါင်းစုံမှ ပူးပေါင်းပါဝင်ပေးကြရန် ပြည်ပရောက် မြန်မာနိုင်ငံသားများ ထံသို့ “ပြည်ပသို့ ပေးစာ” အမည်ရှိသော တောင်းဆိုစာဖြန့်ဝေပေးပို့ခြင်း
By 16 Organizations
By Karenni Human Rights Group
By Karenni State Interim Executive Council
By Mekong Watch, ayus:Network of Buddhists Volunteers on International Cooperation, Friends of the Earth Japan, Japan International Volunteer Center, Network Against Japan Arms Trade, Progressive Voice
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
By Political Prisoners Network – Myanmar
By Karen Human Rights Group
By Karen Human Rights Group
By Myanmar Witness
By Nyan Lynn Thit Analytica
By Women’s League of Burma
By Women’s Peace Network
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.”