What about the civil war in Burma? | Asia | DW

Who has the advantage? An army that has been trying to brutally control the country since the coup, or a resistance movement that has been using guerrilla tactics against the military? This question is asked not only by the people of the country who are suffering from the civil war, but also by neighboring countries and many observers.

Over the past six weeks, there have been several reports, comments and interviews in English-language media and think tanks trying to answer this key question. It was started by the English magazine The Economist, followed by an analysis by the Asia Times military and security expert Anthony Davis. Davis then gave an interview to The Irrawaddy in which he explained why he thought the situation was hopeless shortly after the coup, but now thinks the resistance is consolidating. Michael Martin in an article published in the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies asked: “Is the Myanmar military on their last legs?” John Reed wrote for the Financial Times, and finally Ye Myo Hein and Lucas Meyer published an article on the War on the Rocks website, which specializes in military and security issues.

Different grades

The cartridges naturally vary in length and depth of detail. Davies’ contributions to Asia Times and The Irrawaddy, respectively, and Ye Myo Hein and Lucas Meyer’s contributions to War on the Rocks, are the most comprehensive, informative, but also full of if-then constructs in the subjunctive: If X Happens, then Y can arise.

What is particularly striking, however, is that the contributions contribute to very different assessments of the military situation in Myanmar.

Resistance fighters’ motivation remains unchanged. Here, two young men with the likeness of the imprisoned former de facto head of government Aung San Suu Kyi as a tattoo and a three-finger salute

The Economist notes that the resistance movement’s “imminent victory narrative” is spreading on social media in Burma. But, according to the article, the facts speak a different language: “If you look through the virtual fog, the picture is much gloomier … Armed anti-regime groups are fragmented, up to a dozen in one district. a shortage that no more than guerrilla raids and bombings can handle. ‘

At the other end of the spectrum is Michael Martin’s comment on CSIS. He writes: “There are clear signs that the Myanmar military is struggling to survive.”

The remaining inserts listed lie between the two poles along with their ratings. It should be noted, however, that all reports, with the exception of the Economist article, assume that the situation has changed in favor of the resistance in recent months. But how far the ratings diverge again.

Divergent data situation

Looking at the details, it becomes clear that there are not only big differences in assessing the overall situation. For example, an article in War on the Rocks states that armed resistance groups known as the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) have recruited approximately 100,000 fighters, 40 percent of whom are armed in some way. Where this data comes from remains unclear.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy, Davis speaks of 50,000 to 100,000 fighters and cites the Ministry of Defense of the Government of National Unity (NUG) as a source. Davis also claims that less than 20 percent of PDFs were armed. Note the source: The NUG is a counter-government, most of which live in exile and claim to represent Myanmar politically. The NUG is therefore a party to the conflict. Your information cannot be independently verified. It’s also worth noting that the government can’t accurately quantify how many members have active resistance, which is partly due to the fact that there is no established chain of command from NUG to PDF that operate more or less independently.

Infographic of Burma's cities with attacks six months before and after the coup d'état

The map shows that the People’s Armed Forces (PDF) are carrying out attacks across the country, especially in inland towns, which are mostly inhabited by the Bamar population. Municipalities are an administrative unit in Burma, comparable to a municipality in Germany

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Min Zaw Oo of the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS) estimates that only ten percent of PDF files are equipped with automatic weapons. It comes to these numbers by extrapolating reports of weapons confiscated or found after battles. However, the lack of ammunition weighs much more than the lack of weapons, which can be deduced from the fact that skirmishes with the military usually last no more than an hour.

guerrilla reporting

In most of the articles on this topic, the problematic data situation that has just been explained as an example is discussed in detail. Davis writes explicitly in the Asia Times: “Coherent analysis is complicated by the large number and spatial distribution of clashes and attacks by small units in large parts of the country, and by the blatant lack of impartial front-line reports largely sheltered from global civil war.”

Infographic of Burma's cities with armed clashes six months before and after the coup d'état

Burmese journalist Cape Diamond also highlighted the sense of guerrilla reporting in his reportage for Economist: “Local media just don’t get the full picture. They often suppress failures [der PDFs]”.

The fog of war is impenetrable

The uncertainty cannot be overestimated. There is a lack of nationwide, reliable information about the current situation in the country. There are individual reports that are difficult to verify independently, mainly from events of limited local scope. Min Zaw Oo is therefore skeptical about the overall situation and even the outcome of the conflict. He says: “Different regions must be assessed differently.”

Likewise, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which has created an interactive map of the current conflict, argues: “The map does not try to determine whether (the military or resistance groups) are” winning “, but emphasizes that the coup broke debts – the enacted changed power struggles by introducing new actors and alliances, with unequal results across the country. “

One thing that can be said for sure is that the violence has changed, spread and escalated since the coup. The question of which side will win the civil war of the future remains open.

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