Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is increasingly worried that he might lose his position as Myanmar dictator, said observers, after the junta chief recently invited leaders of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) to peace talks.
In a televised address on April 22, Min Aung Hlaing called for face-to-face talks with EAO leaders.
Typically, military leaders carefully prepare any speech they are to deliver publicly. Normally, the speech is drafted first by a Major General from the Psychological Warfare and Public Relations Department or the chief of military security affairs. The speech is then typically delivered on state anniversaries or significant days.
But observers said that Min Aung Hlaing did not prepare carefully for his April 22 speech, and that it seemed to be an almost impromptu address.
Even ordinary citizens know that powerful EAOs would not agree to hold talks with the military regime leader in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw. Everyone knows that Min Aung Hlaing has been saying one thing and doing another ever since he became the military chief.
Min Aung Hlaing has never before demonstrated any will or desire to end the armed conflicts in Myanmar’s borderlands.
As military chief he prevented the Arakan Army (AA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army from signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), despite the fact that the three armed groups participated in peace talks under U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government and wanted to join the peace process, and despite the fact that U Thein Sein’s government wanted them to sign the NCA.
U Thein Sein could not go against the army chief. And because of the restrictions Min Aung Hlaing imposed, the powerful Kachin Independence Army, which was considering signing the agreement, chose not to sign the NCA.
As a result, clashes ensued in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states throughout the time the National League for Democracy (NLD) Party was in government. And the military also suffered heavy casualties.
Since the coup, resistance groups collectively known as People’s Defense Forces (PDF) have sprung up across the country. Currently, there are around 100,000 PDF members and local PDFs control the majority of Sagaing Region.
However, Min Aung Hlaing excluded the PDFs in his April 22 offer of peace talks. If he has a real desire to end the armed conflicts in Myanmar, he can’t exclude the PDFs.
Despite his proposal for peace talks, the regime is continuing with its attacks in the borderlands, said EAO leaders. If Min Aung Hlaing really wants to end the armed conflicts, he should have instructed a halt to military operations since his proposal for talks, added some EAO leaders.
Some EAO leaders believe that Min Aung Hlaing just wants to reduce the pressure on him and the Myanmar military, and does not have any real intention of ending the border conflicts.
Thousands of anti-coup activists flocked to the borderlands to undergo military training with EAOs, following the junta’s lethal crackdowns on anti-regime protests in February and March last year. Now, PDFs are especially active in Sagaing and Magwe regions, which traditionally provide the largest number of recruits for the Myanmar military. With the exception of Naypyitaw, Ayeyarwady Region and Rakhine State, which is largely under the control of the AA, much of the country has become a war zone.
Since June last year, all 30 divisions of the army have been engaged in non-stop military and security operations, something which is unprecedented in the Myanmar military’s history.
There are ten battalions in a division, and seven of them have to go to the front line in a military operation. After four months on operations, three of the battalions at the front are replaced with the three in the rear. Now, though, the battalions are increasingly exhausted as they are unable to take a break due to fighting conflicts on so many fronts.
Regime forces are also significantly depleted because of casualties and a growing number of defections. Min Aung Hlaing has been forced to extend the retirement age of troops by two more years to compensate for the dwindling number of soldiers.
Due to the shortages, the regime has had to bring retired personnel back into service. It has also formed groups like the Pyu Saw Htee militia to assist its operations. The junta does not fund them, but battalion commanders in the areas they operate in have to cover their costs.
At the same time, the military has seen a steep decline in its revenues as people boycott military-linked products. Normally, dividends from the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings conglomerate are distributed among active and retired personnel every six months. But battalions have not yet received their annual dividend of 15 million kyats and thus have not been able to carry out social welfare works for their personnel and their families.
Due to the increasing pressures, some army subordinates have started to criticize Min Aung Hlaing. Active and retired military personnel are now questioning the military’s leadership. There are many so-called ‘watermelon’ soldiers, named because they wear green uniforms but secretly support the NLD, who tip important military information to the resistance forces.
Some commanders might now be considering scapegoating Min Aung Hlaing for their future safety.
While the regime’s battalions are increasingly tired and cash-starved, the PDFs are growing in terms of manpower and weapons. Resistance fighters who once used rudimentary hunting rifles now have modern assault rifles. As well as using landmines, they are now conducting drone attacks. They have gained military experience while defending themselves and attacking the regime forces.
It is only one month until the onset of the monsoon. When the rainy season comes, regime troops will lose their air support and the PDFs and EAOs will gain the upper hand.
Min Aung Hlaing needs to give his soldiers, who are increasingly tired and disobedient, a rest. He wants to keep the EAOs at bay under the guise of peace talks, at least for the duration of the rainy season when his soldiers will struggle to fight without air support. That is why he suddenly proposed dialogue with the EAOs.
If the EAOs and PDFs can maintain the current level of military, economic and political pressure on the regime, Min Aung Hlaing will surely be driven to despair.
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