Been a while since I have covered the continuing events in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and a few people have asked me to do an update of the situation. But also, far more people have said to me: “wait…that’s still happening?”
Yep, still happening and in fact worse than ever. Because the military junta, who openly seized power in a coup in 2021 but have effectively been in control for decades, are kind of getting a kicking. They’ve basically got a large segment of the country’s populace fighting against them now, with the various groups slowly getting better through the Darwinian process of war, as well as better equipped as they capture army weapons.
But the Generals are not going to give up anytime soon – they’ve been in charge and made too much money for too long for that – so they are getting even more brutal in their tactics; that’s saying something by the standards of the Burmese Civil War. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) fighting in May escalated as the rainy season approached, with skirmishes and battles occurring pretty much across the entire country.
And even the start of the rains have not bought any respite from the brutality of the military. According to the humanitarian group the Free Burma Rangers between the 6th and 8th of June the Burma Army conducted a massacre in the village of Moebya in southern Shan State, reporting that at least fourteen civilians were killed by junta soldiers, with several apparently executed while kneeling.
This is just one example of a single incident that was happened across by an NGO that can report such events. Attacks on civilians by Myanmar military forces are continuously reported by observers and on social media by civilians inside the country. Indeed, further footage taken by the Free Burma Rangers demonstrates exactly the sort of conditions that people in Myanmar are now having to endure.
25 June 2023: Multiple passes by multiple jet fighters killed four fleeing civilians in the Pasaung area of southern Karenni State, Burma. Over 6,000 people are now hiding. Our team was doing a GLC near the village when the attack happened. We responded to help, pray, and report. pic.twitter.com/f64qQeF4JZ
— David Eubank (@DaveEubankFBR) June 27, 2023
These strikes killed four civilians in what are essentially indiscriminate air raids on any potential target within contested zones. Hundreds, possibly thousands of towns and villages are now essentially abandoned and the residents are either living rough in the jungle or else have fled to neighbouring countries seeking asylum.
Because truth be told were it not for their air and artillery power, the junta would’ve likely been defeated already. Having essentially managed to get most of the country to rise against them when they staged their coup in February 2021, most reports on fighting in the country indicate that the military generally lose ground battles against both Bamar rebels and with the Ethnic Armed Organisation forces when they engage.
As an example, in late June the Karenni National Defence Force managed to force the surrender of an entire outpost of junta soldiers located on the Thai-Myanmar border, capturing sixty prisoners and a large quantity of small arms, mortars and ammunition.
Of course, it isn’t all one sided, and the poorly equipped and trained Peoples Defence Forces that rose in the central areas of the country are suffering when the junta’s specialist anti-guerilla units – hardened by literally generations of utilizing the most brutal tactics in the border regions – are employed against them.
But there are signs that the Burma Army is suffering severe shortages in manpower, caused by combat losses, desertion and an inability to recruit effectively. And the junta’s lack of control means that the use of indiscriminate air strikes is their default tactic now. This isn’t anything new, though the scale is definitely increasing.
In my last article on this subject, back in January 2023, I talked about the continuous airstrikes and the fact that the international community has little interest in trying to rein them in.
Indeed, members of the international community continue to support the junta with arms sales, earning huge amounts while doing so. A recent UN report stated that at least a billion dollars’ worth of weapons and military material has been sold to the junta since the coup. Most of this comes from China and Russia, but there are some other surprising names being accused of violating international law.
A report by Justice for Myanmar accuses Austrian aircraft manufacturer Diamond Aircraft Industries of supplying both aircraft parts and training to the Myanmar military in what it calls “…a flagrant contravention of EU restrictive measures.” It further alleges that Diamond Aircraft, along with several other companies located throughout Europe, are assisting the junta to establish a production line for the construction of DART-450 aircraft, which can be used for reconnaissance and potentially for light attack duties.
These might seem rather limited aircraft in contrast to the fast jets that the Myanmar air force has been largely employing in its attacks but considering the almost complete lack of anti-aircraft capability for most of the resistance forces, they represent a real threat and will provide the junta with a more efficient and cost-effective means of conducting its policy of blatant terror attacks.
One hopes that European authorities will at least perform due diligence in investigating the allegations by Justice for Myanmar, but as I have constantly iterated in my videos there seems comparatively little interest amongst the international community in addressing the war in Burma.
But there are some small signs that, hopefully, things may be starting to change. For starters, Timor-Leste has effectively recognized the NUG government-in-exile as the legitimate authority for Myanmar after it invited the NUG’s Foreign Minister to the inauguration of the country’s new Prime Minister.
Historic moment! Timor-Leste officially invites @NUGMyanmar's Foreign Minister to PM's inauguration, setting a precedent. Let this groundbreaking moment inspire us all,esp other ASEAN nations, to fight for democracy and stand against oppression.#TogetherWeWillWin pic.twitter.com/nqVaQnFMf0
— Mahn Winn Khine Thann (@MahnWinnKhine) July 4, 2023
OK, Timor-Leste doesn’t have any ability to actually help the NUG or any of the resistance groups, but they are the first of what hopefully marks a wind change in attitudes towards the Myanmar junta. Because there are a few other signs of nations in the region beginning to tire of mess that the Burma army has created.
In June a meeting called by the Thai government to encourage ASEAN member states to “…fully re-engage Myanmar at the leaders’ level,” as they put it, was effectively boycotted by other ASEAN states, leaving Thailand and Myanmar the only two countries to meet.
And there are further hopeful signs that the Thai’s, who hold one of the strongest positions to either help or hinder the resistance forces due to their location on Myanmar’s long eastern border, may also be about to change their current policies towards the junta.
After the Myanmar coup, one of the junta’s primary low-key supporters was the Thai government. At the time this was headed by Prayut Chan-o-Cha, who himself took power through a military coup in 2014 in response to a political crisis. He represented the conservative elements in Thai society and, as many of these have significant business interests with and in Burma, the former general followed a far more cooperative policy towards the Myanmar military authorities.
But in May 2023 the Thai’s elected a new government in the shape of the progressive Move Forward party and it’s young leader, Pita Limjaroenrat. Key in their policy statements was that they wanted to play a much greater role in resolving the issues in Myanmar and even that they planned to sanction Myanmar’s military rulers, something that is reported to have caused great alarm amongst the generals squatting in Naypyidaw.
Now, Thai politics is famously mercurial, and there is no guarantee that the Move Forward party, despite winning the popular vote, will actually be able to get into power. But if they do, it is possible that the Burma Army is about to lose one of their biggest international supporters.