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Is India about to face a refugee crisis? Junta soldiers and displaced people seek shelter as Myanmar faces civil war between military and ethnic rebels

According to The Irrawaddy, at least 447 junta personnel have given up their weapons and surrendered in northern Shan State, Kayah, Chin, Rakhine and Mon states and Sagaing and Magwe regions within three weeks. The report claims that the number might be higher considering the increasing number of abandoned junta positions.

Fighting between the Myanmar junta and rebel forces is intensifying by the day with the latter gaining a foothold on several of the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military, posts. As per reports, more than 400 junta troops and police officers have surrendered or fled bases across the country since ‘Operation 1027’, which was launched on 27th October in the northern Shan State.

President Myint Swe has warned that Myanmar is in danger of breaking apart. He said that Myanmar would “split into various parts” if the government “did not effectively manage the incidents happening in the border region”.

According to The Irrawaddy, at least 447 junta personnel have given up their weapons and surrendered in northern Shan State, Kayah, Chin, Rakhine and Mon states and Sagaing and Magwe regions within three weeks. The report claims that the number might be higher considering the increasing number of abandoned junta positions.

‘Operation 1027’ was launched by the “Three Brotherhood Alliance” comprising three ethnic groups namely the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army (AA). Eurasian Times reported that a second operation, ‘Operation 1107’ was launched on 7th November in which the Karreni resistance forces captured at least two military bases in the southeastern Kayah State.

The operation was launched to liberate the Kayah State and support the force’s advance to Pyinmana, near the junta’s Naypyitaw fortress. More than 100 junta personnel were reportedly killed or injured on 17th November and more than 300 have surrendered since.

The alliance reportedly said that Light Infantry Battalion 129, including 127 soldiers and 134 relatives led by Major Kyaw Ye Aung surrendered on 12th November in Laukkaing Township in northern Shan State. Each defector was granted 1 million kyats (about US$476) and evacuated to safety.

The alliance has urged all junta personnel to surrender and has assured them of their safety and dignity. The Eurasian Times has reported that the Arakan Army in Rakhine State undertook the most hits on 12th November.

On 30th October, according to The Irrawaddy, 41 Light Infantry Brigade 143 troops surrendered to the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) of the Brotherhood Alliance and agreed to abandon the base near Kan Mong village in Kunlong Township. Moreover, on 31st October, at least 15 pro-Tatmadaw members in Kokang on the Chinese border surrendered.

The Brotherhood Alliance reportedly said it has seized more than 150 junta positions and six towns. National Unity Government’s Ministry of Defense, U Maung Maung Swe has said that junta troops are fleeing, being killed and surrendering.

Additionally, 38 junta personnel have surrendered this week, as per The Irrawaddy report, after the death of at least 110 troops stationed at Loikaw University in the state capital. Seven junta soldiers including a major from the Red base surrendered on 20th November as the rebel forces took control of the Indian border town of Reh Khaw Da in Falam Township.

Six resistance fighters were killed and more than 15 wounded in the fighting. The report cited Reuters claiming that an estimated 43 soldiers fled to Mizoram in India during the battle and another 29 others crossed the border on 16th November.

In Mon State, 23 junta troops from a group of 50 reinforcements surrendered after losing 14 comrades and another five soldiers were detained in clashes. Nearly 40 military posts have been abandoned in Rakhine following attacks by the Arakan Army, which further claimed that 22 junta personnel at the A Pauk Wa village police station surrendered their weapons.

Bases have also reportedly been abandoned in Kawlin, Kalaw and Salingyi in the Sagaing Region, Gangaw Township in the Magwe Region and Shwegyin Township in the Bago Region. According to Firstpost, rebel forces have captured more than 8,000 square kilometres, which is nearly half of Myanmar.

Pro-democracy forces advancing

Ever since Myanmar’s military junta, called Tatmadaw, ousted the democratically-elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, various ethnic groups have been aligning to overthrow the junta. The nationwide uprising by the Peoples Defence Force (PDF) in alliance with the Three Brotherhood Alliance has intensified their offensive which is now expected to advance to the capital, Naypyidaw.

According to the Eurasian Times, the critical phase of the operations will begin when the resistance forces challenge the power centre north of Mandalay.

China capitalising on unrest

Reports claim that while China maintains good ties with the Myanmarese military, Beijing has been supporting the rebel groups, particularly at the border areas. “The United Wa State Army (UWSA), a potent ethnic armed organisation controlling an autonomous region in Myanmar’s northeastern Shan State, receives substantial material and political support from China,” Firstpost reported.

The UWSA is reportedly a major arms supplier to the ethnic forces and its leaders command around 25,000 troops armed with Chinese-origin weapons, including FN-6-Man-Portable Air Defence Systems, armoured vehicles and various light weapons.

Moreover, the UWSA also operates a factory, as per the Firstpost report, in its controlled area where it assembles a version of the Chinese Type-81 automatic rifle. The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) which represents the Kokang minority is also ethnically Chinese.

Moreover, China also has good relations with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. China’s attempts to play all sides reflect the significant investment the country has made in Myanmar including energy projects, a railway line project through Mandalay and pipelines going to the Bay of Bengal.

Myanmar also serves as a bridge for China for access to the Indian Ocean. China has often used or expressed its desire to use conflicted regions and economies as an opportunity to push its projects, particularly the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and advance its aggressive expansionist strategy through the infamous debt trap that China is known for.

Myanmar nationals seek refuge in India

Meanwhile, according to Firstpost, more than 4,000 civilians and pro-democracy activists have been killed in Myanmar and around 20,000 have been jailed as the junta continues to enforce strict restrictions and censorship.

According to the Eurasian Times, thousands of Myanmarese nationals have crossed into India including 47 Myanmar army officials who crossed the international border and surrendered before the state police in Mizoram, which shares a 510-hm border area with Chin State.

The personnel were later taken to the border town of Moreh in Manipur and handed over to Myanmar military officials.

Mizoram’s Director General of Police (DGP) Anil Shukla has said that while the situation at the border with Myanmar is tense given the ongoing developments, it is also under control. Reports quoting the DGP said that the 75 Myanmarese soldiers who had crossed into Indian territory had been sent back.

Moreover, from over 5,000 Myanmarese nationals who had entered India, most have been sent back. The injured however were hospitalised for treatment. Reports claim that at least 26,000 Myanmar citizens are seeking refuge in India amid the unrest.

The fear of a 2021 repeat looms over India; it was faced with an influx of thousands of Myanmarese, largely Rohingya Muslims, back in 2021 when the junta took control of the country in a coup overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.

With migrant influx already burdening northeastern states like Manipur, the situation in Myanmar could very well pose a fresh round of illegal immigrant pressure on the Indian adminstration.

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