Big Defeats For Myanmar Junta Army Despite Chinese-Brokered Ceasefire


Despite a Chinese-brokered ceasefire between government troops and the rebel Brotherhood Alliance in Northern Myanmar, fighting in other parts of the Pagoda Nation has continued unabated, leading to some huge defeats for the ruling military junta.

The Arakan Army (AA) fighting for independence in the southwestern coastal province of Rakhine now claim to have taken prisoner the chief of 19th Military Operations Command (MOC-19) after clashes with government troops in Chin State’s Paletwa Township.

Paletwa is a key road and river junction on the India-financed Kaladan Multimodal Transport project that seeks to connect India’s Eastern ports to Sittwe (former Akyab) port in Rakhine and then up the Kaladan River to Zorinpuii in India’s Mizoram State in a river-and-road mode.

The KMMT route is not yet operational because of work delays in the Paletwa region caused first by attacks on Indian contractors by Arakan Army rebels and then due to the eruption of largescale fighting between rebels snd government troops in the Rakhine and Chin State.

The Arakan Army resents Indian military operations (Ops Sunrise 1 & 2) against their bases on Mizoram border and blames India for supporting a repressive military junta despite paying lip service to the cause of democracy in India.

Arakan Army spokesperson Khaine Thukka told this writer on Monday that their fighters have captured the MOC-19 chief Brigadier-General Zin Myo Swe who had fled during the AA’s attack on a junta base in Paletwa Township on Thursday. Thukka said Brig-Gen Swe was nabbed by AA fighters late on Friday. “It took a day to conclusively identify him.” Troops and the AA have been fighting in western Rakhine State and neighboring Paletwa Township since the second week of November. Troops from MOC-19 based in Mon State’s Ye Township have been sent to fight in Paletwa.

Tatmadaw (Burmese army)  forces lost contact with Zin Myo Swe during the AA’s attack on his command base at Infantry Battalion 289.

Zin Myo Swe was transferred to 19th Military Operations Command, which is under Southeastern Command, from a Myanmar military tactical command base in Kutkai Township, northern Shan State, in 2022. Kutkai Town was recently seized by the Brotherhood Alliance, a military grouping comprising the AA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

Zin Myo Swe joined the military 1993, serving in No. 18 Light Infantry Battalion in the early days of his career.

Rakhine media outlet Narinjara News reported the ethnic armed group had defeated Infantry Battalion 289 on Thursday and captured junta troops including commanders.

The Brotherhood Alliance launched Operation 1027 in late October, which turned into  a coordinated offensive that has seized hundreds of junta bases and outposts as well as 30 towns in Shan, Kachin, Karenni (Kayah) and Chin states and Sagaing Region.

Fighting has continued in other parts of the country despite a Chinese mediated ceasefire between the Brotherhood Alliance and the military junta last week.

Chinese mediators brought the rebel leaders and the junta representatives together at Kunming, capital of Yunnan State bordering on northern Myanmar and made them agree to cessation of hostilities in Northern Shan State.

Beijing has been worried over the 1027 offensive launched by the Brotherhood Alliance leading to closure of entry points that must remain open and unaffected to maintain the rising momentum of the lucrative bilateral trade between the two  neighbors.

During the first meeting, both sides agreed to a 20-day ceasefire from Dec. 11 to 31 but the deal collapsed as intense clashes continued to break out across northern Shan.

The second round of talks from Dec. 22 to 24 failed to reach any agreement and the fighting went on uninterrupted. So far the alliance has seized 16 towns and five China-Myanmar trade zones, while the junta has lost at least 250 army bases, including a Regional Operations Command and tactical bases, in northern Shan State alone.

The third round of peace talks came after Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong met with Myanmar junta boss Min Aung Hlaing on Friday in Naypyitaw to discuss border stability among other issues.

Representatives of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army ( MNDAA)  making up the Brotherhood Alliance met with their Junta counterparts and Chinese officials in Kunming on Jan 10-11.

Burmese sources say that the two sides agreed to a ceasefire and that their troops would not make any further advances.

The alliance also agreed not to seize any more regime camps or towns in northern Shan State, while the junta agreed to refrain from conducting air strikes and shelling in the area.

Furthermore, the two sides also agreed to reopen vital Myanmar-China trade routes over which the joint ethnic armies have taken control.

He added, however, that a resumption in trade would only be possible after further detailed discussions between the ethnic armies, the junta and China after all fighting on the ground had ceased.

“The talks focused mainly on the ceasefire. Issues like relocation of troops, bases and territory designation are still off the agenda,” the source explained.

“The deal has already come into effect,” Arakan Army spokesperson Khaine Thukka told this writer on Saturday. But he insisted fighters of Arakan Army will continue their seige of Paletwa in Chin State and of the Chinese-financed deep-sea port town of Kyaukphyu will continue. 

Junta spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun confirmed the ceasefire to local pro-regime media on Friday. He said some additional points would be discussed further in order to sustain the deal, and thanked China for facilitating the talks.

The alliance launched the offensive, known as Operation 1027, in late October last year vowing to uproot the military dictatorship and eradicate online scam operations on the Myanmar-China border. The ethnic armies have taken control of a large swathe of northern Shan State from the Chinese border in the east to areas close to Mandalay Region in the west. Additional anti-regime offensives—some of them part of the alliance operation, others inspired by it—have subsequently been launched in Sagaing Region and Rakhine, Chin and Karenni (Kayah) states.

The outcome of the latest talks may be due to pressure from China, which seeks stability along its border with Myanmar.

“The deal is only effective for northern Shan. In other areas, the fighting will continue,” he said, referring to Rakhine, Chin, Karenni, Sagaing and other areas.

For India, which has so far adopted a wait-and-watch policy on the Myanmar crisis and pitched its faith on ASEAN to find  a solution through its Five-Point Consensus, the success of Chinese peace effort should be wake-up call. Having wholeheartedly backed the military and secured major concessions and mega-infrastructure projects, the Chinese are trying to retain the existing level of presence in a country which gives it an outlet into the Indian Ocean through the Bay of Bengal. It is time Delhi takes a cue and provides something like a Gandhi Peace Mission to mediate a more a comprehensive peace deal with all stakeholders on a national scale. 

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC and Reuters correspondent and author of books on South Asian conflicts.

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