Myanmar Regime Reinforcements Sent to Resistance Strongholds After China Talks
By Thet Htar Maung 21 March 2023
China’s new special envoy to Myanmar, Deng Xijun, has already triggered changes in the country since his appointment in December 2022.
Last week, Deng Xijun met leaders of seven powerful ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) based in northern and eastern Myanmar along the border with China — their third meeting since December.
Before the latest talks, the seven EAOs including Myanmar’s most powerful ethnic army, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), met in UWSA-controlled Wa State. In a joint statement, they thanked China for its work attempting to solve Myanmar’s current crisis.
Deng has also met junta boss Min Aung Hlaing twice. During their second meeting, Deng also met officials from the military regime’s peace negotiation team. Following the meeting, the junta moved battalions based near the Myanmar-China border to resistance strongholds in central and southeastern Myanmar, where they have launched massive offensive operations.
The Myanmar military has launched large-scale operations in three locations: Kayah State, including Pekon and Pinlaung townships in neighboring southern Shan State, Tanintharyi Region and areas of Magwe Region and Chin State.
The new offensives have been made possible because the regime has moved some 3,000 troops formerly stationed near the Myanmar-China border in Shan State inland to the conflict areas.
Before the reinforcements arrived, junta troops in Kayah and Pekon and Pinlaung townships were under the Eastern Command and Loikaw Regional Operations Command and consisted of the 66th Light Infantry Division.
But strong resistance from Karenni resistance groups — the Karenni Army and the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force — and People’s Defense Forces (PDF) meant that the regime was unable to exert control over Kayah and Pekon and Pinlaung townships.
The military has also declared martial law in Tanintharyi Region’s Dawei and Palaw townships in southern Myanmar, while also deploying troops from Kayah to Karen State, where resistance is also strong. So the junta needed reinforcements in Tanintharyi.
Reinforcements were also needed in Magwe’s Gangaw District and neighboring Chin State, where PDF’s fighting alongside the Chinland Defense Force are making it difficult for the junta to resupply its bases in Chin State.
Despite being overstretched by fighting on multiple fronts, 3,000 reinforcements were found and started to arrive around the end of February.
Soldiers from the 12th Military Operations Command (MOC) based in northern Shan State were sent to Karen State, while troops from the 20th MOC fighting in Karen State were moved to Tanintharyi Region.
Further reinforcements came from 2nd MOC and 17th MOC, who have launched assaults in Yaw Region, an area made up of Gangaw, Htilin, and Saw in Magwe Region’s Gangaw District, and Kyaukhtu on the border of Magwe and Chin State.
Why couldn’t the regime move troops from northern Shan State before? Why now?
Three of the seven EAOs China’s special envoy met — the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) — have a strong presence in northern Shan State.
They have ties to pro-democracy revolutionary forces that took up arms after the 2021 coup. Thousands of revolutionary fighters have since been trained and armed by the KIA, TNLA and MNDAA. That forced the Myanmar military to keep soldiers from seven MOCs and Northeastern Command in their positions in northern Shan.
So what made the regime take a bold decision to move its troops in the face of such threat? The KIA, TNLA and MNDAA have rejected peace talks with the regime, and are unlikely to reach an immediate truce with the junta no matter what China’s special envoy says to them.
The regime was able to move the troops because of a guarantee made possible by an agreement between Deng and the junta. China does not want to see fighting along the Myanmar-China frontier. So the regime might have promised not to conduct attacks along the border, while Deng assured the junta that EAOs would not attack regime forces along the border.
For the military regime, the major threat now is in central Myanmar, and it won’t think twice about promising China that it will not fight along the border unless it is attacked. And Deng is in a position to pressure EAOs in northern Myanmar not to fight near the frontier with China.
EAOs in north and east Myanmar rely heavily on China for supplies of everything from food and medicine to fuel. So they are not in a position to argue when China makes a demand. That enabled the junta to move its troops without fear of attacks taking place along the border.
Result of Deng’s visits
Deng said he intends to help solve Myanmar’s issue peacefully. So what has been the result of Deng’s flurry of activity since December?
China has got a guarantee of stability at the border, while the Myanmar military got 3,000 troops to reinforce its battalions fighting in central and southeastern Myanmar. That resulted in regime forces slaughtering civilians and torching villages in Pinlaung Township.
The junta’s recent operations and its massacres of civilians are the outcome of an agreement between Deng and the regime. The Myanmar military has gained an advantage and has been able to launch large-scale operations in at least three places.
But for the Myanmar people that agreement has only induced more misery as they suffer the junta’s atrocities.