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A rebel alliance makes Myanmar’s junta sweat

Volunteer members of Karenni insurgent forces walk in Moe Bye in Kayah State, Myanmar November 12, 2023.

Volunteer members of Karenni insurgent forces walk in Moe Bye in Kayah State, Myanmar November 12, 2023.


Yesterday marked one month since the start of Operation 1027, a joint offensive by the Three Brotherhood Alliance ethnic minority rebels in Myanmar that has pushed junta forces out of key border crossings with China. They’ve made common cause against the military junta that took over in 2021 with the People’s Defense Forces, paramilitaries organized by members of the former democratic government — but they face a tough fight to overthrow the regime.

The offensive has left about 40% of Myanmar’s access to China under rebel control and halted hundreds of millions of dollars in trade across the frontier. Their successes have spurred other ethnic paramilitaries to attack, with offensives making ground in the states of Shan and Kayah in eastern Myanmar, and Rakhine in the West. The People’s Defense Forces have also disrupted military control in Sagaing and Magwe, pitting fighters from the ethnic majority Bamar against the military they have traditionally supported.

What will it take to topple the junta? Despite recent successes, the junta’s forces still outgun the rebels and enjoy complete air superiority. Taking the big cities would likely require more military might than the rebels can muster.

And there’s the question of Beijing, which cautiously re-engaged with the junta last year after the coup strained ties. The Three Brothers Alliance is trying to earn goodwill by specifically targeting centers run by organized crime syndicates that often essentially enslave Chinese citizens to run phone scams, which Beijing had urged the junta to crack down upon.

Finally, while the People’s Defense Forces and Three Brothers Alliance are cooperating for now, their long-term interests are not wholly aligned. Myanmar’s ethnic minority militias have fought for autonomy from the central government for decades, and it won’t be easy to persuade them they’ll be better off supporting some sort of return to power of the former democratic government, even if they do manage to jointly kick out the junta.


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