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Myanmar: Refugees Flee To India As Civil War Intensifies And Rebels Gain Ground

Myanmar: Refugees Flee To India As Civil War Intensifies And Rebels Gain Ground

This may not be widely known but Delhi is a refuge to as many as 6000 people from Myanmar who have fled their home country to escape repression by the military junta. But Mizoram has even more, around 60,000, says Soe Myint, editor of Mizzima News, and this is something which underscores the extent of displacement caused by the civil war. Mizzima is a news portal broadcasting from rebel-held areas in Myanmar.

Soe Myint was a guest on The Gist, and gave a sense of why the Myanmar military collapsed. Although it has been the strongest institution in Myanmar, Soe Myint says the coup by General Min Aung Hlaing in 2021 “was a big mistake”, because it alienated the mass of young people who were looking forward to growing in a democratic dispensation.

Today, the recruitment of ethnic Bamars, who make up the bulk of the army, has virtually dried up. Worse still, they have turned against the military and allied with various ethnic groups like the Chins, Karens and Arakanese to take on the army. Their decision to fight the army is also a reaction to the widespread corruption in the ranks. An officer stationed in a remote camp can make a lot of money, Soe Myint said.

Gen Min is known to dislike China, so he turned to Russia for help. He was hopeful of military and other assistance that would enable him to get the better of the resistance. But the Ukraine war torpedoed that.

Given that he is disliked even within the army, is it possible he could be thrown out? Gen Min has the army firmly under his control and despite repeated battlefield reverses, his position has remained secure. But who does he hand over to, more so at a time when the army is so much on the backfoot. He would like to exit but there is no exit plan.

There are three rebel groups battling the military junta. One is based along the China border and draws much of its support from there. This includes the Arakan Army which is not present only in Rakhine state. They make up the Three Brotherhood Alliance (Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance and Ta’ang National Liberation Army). Then there are the People’s Defense Force affiliated to the National Unity Government, and the Karens. The interesting point here is the coordination that goes on between these three groups on the battlefield.

Soe Myint has no doubt the Myanmar army will be defeated. The million dollar question is do the rebel groups have a plan for the country once they’ve done with the army?

Soe Myint says they do and they are also clear about democracy and a federal union. This idea is shared by the Bamar, who make up the majority ethnic community in Myanmar, and the National Unity Government. What they have in mind is a kind of a loose federation with the states enjoying autonomy.

Is there any talk about the Rohingyas? Soe Myint believes the Rohingya are increasingly seen as part of the nation and some leaders have even apologised for the manner in which they have been treated. But the big question, he admits, is citizenship and “I have not seen any of the resistance forces coming out with a very straightforward answer to whether Rohingyas will be given citizenship.”

India, he said, is trying to make sense of the confusion on the ground and while there are low key contacts with the rebel groups, Delhi is still reluctant to dump the junta. Perhaps India could start with supplying food and medical aid to displaced people in Myanmar.