Ten of Myanmar’s major rebel groups threw their support behind the country’s anti-coup movement on April 3, fanning fears that a broader conflict could erupt in a country long plagued by fighting between the military and the ethnic armies.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, triggering an uprising that the junta has sought to quell with deadly crackdowns.
According to a local monitoring group, more than 550 people have been killed in the anti-coup unrest, bloodshed that has angered some of Myanmar’s 20 or so ethnic groups and their militias, who control large areas of territory, mostly in border regions.
On April 3, 10 of these rebel groups met virtually to discuss the situation, condemning the junta’s use of live ammunition on protesters.
“The leaders of the military council must be held accountable,” said General Yawd Serk, leader of the rebel Restoration Council of Shan State.
Last week, the junta declared a month-long ceasefire with ethnic armed groups, though exceptions might be made if “security and administrative machinery of the government . . . are encroached on”.
The announcement did not encompass stopping lethal force against anti-coup demonstrations.
But Yawd Serk said the ceasefire required security forces to halt “all violent actions”, including against protesters.
The 10 rebel groups that met online are signatories to a nationwide ceasefire agreement that was brokered by Suu Kyi’s government, which attempted to negotiate an end to the ethnic militias’ decades-long armed struggle for greater autonomy.
But distrust runs deep for the ethnic minorities of Myanmar, and Yawd Serk said the 10 signatories to the nationwide ceasefire would “review” the deal at their meeting.
He said: “I would like to state that the [10 groups] firmly stand with the people who are . . . demanding the end of dictatorship.”
Last week, a UN special envoy on Myanmar warned the Security Council of the risk of civil war and an imminent “bloodbath”.
‘No reason for conflict’
The rebel groups’ meeting comes a week after one of them, the Karen National Union (KNU), seized a military base in eastern Karen state, killing 10 army officers. The junta retaliated with air strikes.
The KNU has been a vocal opponent of the military junta and said it is sheltering hundreds of anti-coup activists.
On April 3, the group condemned the military’s use of “excessive force by engaging in non-stop bombing and air strikes” from March 27 to 30, which have “caused the deaths of many people including children”.
It said: “The air strikes have also led to the further displacement of more than 12,000 people.”
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said the military has only been targeting KNU’s 5th Brigade – which led to the seizure of the military base.