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Myanmar: Fighting Enters Crucial Stage As Junta Forces Strengthen Defences In Country’s Capital City

by tbhad

Jaideep Mazumdar, Swarajyamag

Fighting between the People’s Defence Forces (PDFs)-Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) combine and the military junta in Myanmar has now entered a decisive stage with the military, which has lost a lot of ground, fortifying the country’s capital Naypyidaw apprehending attacks by the anti-junta forces.

The military, also called the ‘Tatmadaw’, has faced relentless attacks by various EAOs as well as PDFs in the eastern Kachin, Shan, Kayah and Kayin states, the eastern Sagaing, China and Rakhine provinces and also the central Magway province.

Hundreds of junta soldiers and officers have been killed, many have been taken hostage by the rebels and the Tatmadaw has lost more than 300 bases across the country.

Fighting has now broken out in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city and the erstwhile capital of the country, between the urban resistance group–Yangon Army–and junta soldiers.

Alarmingly for the junta, rebels belonging to the Myanmar Royal Dragon Army which is under the control of the National Unity Government (NUG) have taken control of some strategic roads leading from Sagaing province to Mandalay, the country’s commercial hub.

The NUG is the government-in-exile formed by political parties of Myanmar after the Tatmadaw executed a coup in February 2021 and countermanded the results of the November 2020 general elections in the country that was won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

Mandalay is just about 265 kilometres north of Naypyidaw, a distance that can be covered in just under three hours.

According to latest reports, urban resistance forces controlled by the NUG have engaged junta soldiers in some outlying areas of Mandalay.

Strategic experts say that the junta’s move to reinforce Naypyidaw with more troops brought in from neighbouring locations and even as far away as Yangon (365 kilometres south of the nation’s capital) is a sign of the growing nervousness of the junta.

“This latest development means that the junta is making a last-ditch effort to preserve its rule even as large parts of the country are slipping away from its grip,” Myanmar expert Andrew Carter, who has written books on the country, told Swarajya from Thailand. Carter is a visiting faculty at Bangkok University.

The junta started forcible conscription of young men at Yangon and Mandalay from Wednesday (November 22), thus triggering panic among lakhs of residents of those cities.

Junta soldiers are also reportedly looting houses for valuables and have been stocking up on food and emergency supplies at Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw.

NUG’s foreign affairs minister Zin Mar Aung communicated to Swarajya that apart from calling in about 10,000 combat troops from Mandalay, Bago and Yangon regions, about 4,000 elite commandos have been deployed at strategic locations in the national capital.

“New military facilities are being built in Naypyidaw and military barracks and police stations are being reinforced to resist drone attacks. The Tatmadaw’s Garrison Engineering Corps has started constructing bunkers and underground facilities and (junta chief) Min Aung Hlaing has recalled retired military and police personnel,” said Aung.

According to reports, the regime’s civilian employees are being given arms training and extensive household inspections are being conducted in Naypyidaw. These civilian employees and retired army and police personnel are being drafted into reserve units.

Elsewhere in the country, desperate junta forces are now fighting back with chemical weapons. The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)–it has formed a Three Brotherhood Alliance (TBA) with Arakan Army (AA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)–alleged Friday (November 24) that junta forces are using chemical weapons to recapture a military base at Hseni town in northern Shan state.

This base was captured by the MNDAA rebels during the fierce offensive launched simultaneously by the Alliance across Shan, Kachin, Sagaing, Chin and Rakhine states since October 27 this year.

The TNLA has also alleged that junta forces are using chemical weapons to recapture strategic bases in Hseni town in Shan province that the TNLA captured from the Tatmadaw earlier this month.

The junta has lost more than 180 bases, six towns and strategic trade routes to China across Shan state since the launch of Operation 1027 (so named because it was launched on October 27).

Since Tuesday (November 21), the junta lost 80 troops in attacks by PDFs and EAOs in various parts of the country.

Fierce battles are raging across the country and the junta is responding to its losses by indiscriminately shelling civilian areas where it suspects rebels belonging to PDFs and EAOs are hiding. That has resulted in a large number of civilian casualties and displacement of an estimated 3.33 lakh civilians, say UN agencies.

The junta is also detaining civilians in conflict zones and using them as human shields to discourage attacks by rebels.

But these tactics are not bearing fruit as the PDFs and EAOs are gaining ground and slowly advancing towards major towns and cities.

Many junta soldiers and officers have surrendered with their weapons to the rebels. Many have also defected and joined the ranks of the rebels. This has led to a breakdown in the morale of junta soldiers.

“The junta is unable to recapture bases it has lost to rebels with the help of its ground forces (infantry). That’s why it is using its artillery and airforce (helicopter gunships and fighter jets) to bomb areas under rebels’ control. But even then it has not been able to make much headway. Fresh areas are falling to the rebels every day. The junta is running low on morale and manpower now. The rebels are preparing for a final, coordinated push to dislodge the junta,” an associate professor of University of Yangon’s Arts Faculty who did not want to be named communicated to Swarajya through e-mail.

The junta’s reinforcement of Naypyidaw, seen in light of the severe setbacks it has been facing across the country in recent weeks, has ignited hopes in Myanmar’s long-suffering people that the final battle is not too long away.

The associate professor of Myanmar’s top-rated University of Yangon told Swarajya that people are now fervently hoping that the Tatmadaw, which has directly and indirectly ruled over the country through its history and inflicted sufferings on its people, will fall. And that will pave the way for democracy in Myanmar.

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