by Theo Guzman
The latest report from the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that the new front in Burma’s conflict in northern Shan State has displaced some 50,000 people since 26 October. This brings the total nationwide to more than two million. Last Friday’s report may seem like an ordinary update on a conflict that gets little attention in the news, except when it comes to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese leader who was back in jail with her government in February 2021. In reality, it tells of a new turning point in the struggle between the February coup leaders and the diverse and often disparate forces opposing them. With an acceleration that indicates a change in the strategy of the resistance and a point in favour of the unity, however complex, of the various Burmese segments opposing the regime.
In fact, “Operation 1027”, launched at the end of October, has achieved remarkable results in two weeks: military, political and psychological. The military aspect can be summed up in the control of important towns on the border with China, such as Chinswehaw; the blockade of the roads leading from Mandalay to China, with the consequent blockade of import-export to and from the PRC, and the impossibility for the Burmese army to supply its soldiers in North Shan; The seizure of more than 150 junta military centres, with the confiscation of weapons such as HMGs, heavy machine guns capable of hitting bombers in flight (the biggest challenge for the resistance); the massive use of drones. “The incredible blitzkrieg of Operation 1027 over the past two weeks – in the words of the influential Asian magazine Asia Times: “This operation is likely to be remembered as the most decisive and audacious display of weaponry in Myanmar’s decades-long civil war.
Politically, the effects are different. It is worth quoting a statement from the Brotherhood Alliance, the alliance of the Kokang Myanmar Democratic Alliance Army (Mndaa), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (Tnla) and the Arakan Army (Aa), which is the protagonist of the offensive: “Our primary objective is driven by the collective desire to protect the lives of civilians, to assert the right to self-defence, to maintain control over our territory…. respond to aerial bombardments… remove the oppressive military dictatorship, a shared aspiration of the entire Myanmar population… combat widespread online gambling fraud”. There are three key concepts: the right to self-defence and control of territory; the routing of the junta; and combating illegal activities. While the first reaffirms the right to autonomy and the third declares war on illegality (which the junta uses to fund itself), the second alludes to unity. In fact, the alliance had the support of other actors: the Bama People’s Liberation Army, the Communist People’s Liberation Army, the Kachin Independence Army and the Mandalay People’s Defence Force, the latter a direct expression of the National Unity Government (NUG). Finally, the 1027 put the Chinese, who are not a minor player in the conflict, in a difficult position.
In psychological terms, this is a very serious slap in the face for the Burmese generals. Both regarding military effectiveness and the fact that the junta used to negotiate with some of these rebel groups. This is no longer the case. From the resistance’s point of view, the fact that so many forces are working together is a strong signal of unity to all Burmese, while the targeting of the so-called ‘scam cities’, the cities of vice and illegal activities, gives the action an ethical and legalistic aura that, at least in its intentions, prefigures the idea of a new clean society to oppose a corrupt junta.
*Photo by Sigfried Modola