covering burma and southeast asia
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War or Peace?


By AUNG ZAW NOVEMBER, 2010 - VOL.18, NO.11


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The Burmese military regime claims that the Nov. 7 election is part of its road map to a peaceful, democratic union that reconciles the country’s disparate ethnic groups. But the junta’s recent purchase of about 50 Mi-24 helicopters and 12 Mi-2 armored transport helicopters from Russia indicates that it is instead preparing for war against armed ethnic cease-fire groups that control territories along Burma’s borders with China and Thailand.

Tensions between the regime and the cease-fire groups have risen steadily concurrent with the approach of the election as the regime has attempted to use the impending polls to pressure the armed militias to join its border guard force (BGF). By doing so, the junta appears to have painted itself into a corner, as most of the groups have refused to join the BGF and now the junta must either back down or take action after the polls close.

Kachin Independence Army recruits.(Photo: Ryan)
If the regime decides to strike against ethnic armies during the dry season after the election, the question is who it will attack first. Many observers believe it will initially attack the weakest armed groups in order to claim a political victory, and then go after the strongest militias in the northern region, which promises to be a much tougher slog. This is where the new attack and transport helicopters come in: Since the generals want to avoid heavy casualties on the ground, the combat-ready, Russian-made helicopters suitable for counter-insurgency warfare have been positioned in the northern and central regions of the country.

Two armed ethnic groups to watch in the north are the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in Shan State and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin State. The junta has cancelled the election in four townships controlled by the UWSA and rejected the registration applications of three Kachin political parties, both moves in apparent retaliation for the refusal of the respective ethnic militias to join the BGF.

In addition, tensions recently spiked in Kachin State when the junta’s state-run newspaper described the KIA as “insurgents” for the first time since signing a cease-fire agreement with the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in 1994. This action has led some analysts to wonder whether the regime’s newly appointed commanders in the northern region want to provoke a war against the KIA, and Kachin leaders are outraged that the regime’s attempt to intimidate them into joining the BGF could lead to the resumption of armed conflict.

Responding to Naypyidaw’s use of the word “insurgents,” Wawhkyung Sinwa, a KIO spokesman, told The Irrawaddy that it is incorrect to describe a cease-fire group in this way while the cease-fire remains in operation.

Observers in Rangoon were also surprised by the junta’s change in language. “After reading the report, I was shocked because ‘insurgent’ is a term the regime has only used for non-ceasefire groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU) in the last 20 years,” said an editor of a private Rangoon weekly speaking on condition of anonymity. “It also signals a potential new civil war in the country’s border areas.”

Kachin and Wa leaders in the northern region are already bracing for war. They have acquired anti-aircraft weapons and additional ammunition and have deployed their troops along key hilltop positions. The UWSA has deployed three battalions —comprising some of the Wa army’s elite troops—from its headquarters in Panghsang to southern Shan State near the Thai border, sources close to the UWSA say. The UWSA and KIO do not, however, intend to simply sit back and defend their positions. If attacked, they have threatened to launch an urban warfare campaign intended to eliminate ethnic Burmans living in their regions.

In addition, in order to defend against major junta offensives, the UWSA and KIO have formed an alliance with four other armed ethnic groups—the KNU, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the Chin National Front. If the Burmese junta attacks one armed ethnic group, the other armed ethnic groups will launch attacks in their areas of the country, according to alliance leaders.

“We intend to set up different military front lines in the country when the Burmese military attack one of our members. That way they can’t reinforce their troops at only one position. They have to defend every corner from our attacks.



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Gam Seng Wrote:
02/11/2010
Dears Comrades
we don't want to embrace war in order to restore the Federal Union in Burma, but there is no other way to solve the political conflicts made by the elite ruling Burmese since 1962.

There is enough strength for both defensive and offensive battles against the the junta's army, which is the junta's mechanism to demolish the principle of Federalism upon which the Union Of Burma was formed by.

Amidst violation of political means, war is just.

Fortuner Wrote:
01/11/2010
I very much agree and since long ago have been waiting to see the ethincs groups work together to fight the SPDC.

Khurtai Kornkhaw Wrote:
01/11/2010
The situation now is that the cease-fire armies and resistance armies are without a clue on how to formulate a grand strategy for their survival and to deliver the peoples' aspirations, within their respective territory of influence or control areas.

The problem is that the non-Burman armed groups are at most only reactive and have never strived to become proactive.

It is alright that once the first shot is fired by the junta's troop, all possible war fronts would open and the junta would have to defend its positions in all directions. And that an urban guerrilla Warfare would be introduced.

But these measures are in nature just reactive and besides, they still need to be translated into real implementation when the time comes.

A more proactive approach would be to agree upon a strategy among the non-Burman armed groups on how to weaken the junta's power base, e.g. as soliciting alliance with dissatisfied junta's commanders and soldiers, before and during an uprising when it occurs.

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