SAC-M: Just 17pc of territory in Myanmar under stable junta control as conflict trajectory favours resistance

September 5th, 2022  •  Category News
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SAC-M’s 5 September briefing paper ‘Effective Control in Myanmar’ covered in the South China Morning Post


Myanmar junta ‘losing control’ as armed resistance digs in, rights experts say

5 September, 2022

Myanmar’s junta has lost its grip over most of the country as the pro-democracy resistance drags the army into territory-wide whack-a-mole operations, draining its resources, manpower and morale, a report by human rights experts said on Monday.

The briefing, released by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M), said the junta’s legitimacy has been shredded since its February 2021 coup with widespread violence against its own citizens compounded by an inability to control security, provide basic services or collect taxes.

The report said that Myanmar is in turmoil more than a year-and-a-half since Senior General Min Aung Hlaing led a coup annulling results of the November 2020 elections won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s wildly popular pro-democracy party.

Mushrooming armed resistance to the coup means the junta now has “stable” control of just 72 of the country’s 330 townships, the SAC-M note said, with the rest under frequent attack, controlled by proxy ethnic militias or fully marshalled by anti-army volunteers.

The Tatmadaw – as Myanmar’s brutal army is known – has been pulled into fighting multiple fronts, reliant on pounding resistance areas with air strikes, artillery and moving forces from one flashpoint to another across hard terrain and long distances.

“The bottom line is that the junta risks losing control of any area that it does not actively defend,” according to the study, led by three former UN rights experts Yanghee Lee, Marzuki Darusman and Chris Sidoti.

“This is a key threshold in the conflict’s overarching trajectory because it means the junta has no ‘strategic depth’, or safe zones, where it can rest, regroup and re-equip its forces or recruit on any meaningful scale.”

The Area Beyond Full Military Control Equates To 52 Per Cent Of The Country, The Report Said.

“The World Needs To Wake Up To The Reality That A New Myanmar Is Already Taking Shape,” Added Yanghee Lee.

Catastrophe at heart of ASEAN

In a nation pitched into violent chaos it is virtually impossible to verify the report’s findings, with vast swathes inaccessible to journalists and independent human rights monitors.

Estimates by human rights groups of those killed by security forces since the coup range from 1,500-5,600, while armed resistance units dotting nearly the entire country claim daily success in ambushes and gunfights against Tatmadaw forces, although they are largely reliant on rudimentary bombs and old weapons.

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi last week received a fresh three-year jail sentence with hard labour for alleged election fraud, as junta courts pile convictions onto the democracy figurehead.

Her latest sentence was condemned on Monday by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer who said she is “very concerned about her [Suu Kyi’s] health and well-being.”
Speaking in Singapore, Heyzer warned the lack of any political settlement risks creating “a multidimensional catastrophe” at the heart of Southeast Asia, which could force millions to flee conflict and poverty.

Myanmar’s economy contracted 18 per cent last year, according to the World Bank, as the double punch of the pandemic and civil unrest unwound gains of the last decade in a fragile democracy which for a fleeting moment had shown signs of renewal driven by its natural resources and young, determined population.

Many foreign investors have closed their operations as Myanmar lurched into violence and widespread diplomatic isolation, with the United Nations and activists accusing its military of atrocities and crimes against humanity.The report’s authors said the National Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG) – a shadow administration with many key leaders in exile – now has “the greatest claim to effective control of the country.”

The report also stated that the junta is “unable to effectively administer the functions of government and shows no signs of establishing a permanent order.”

In its public relations drive, Myanmar’s military says it is seeking to restore order from “terrorists” and re-establish genuine democratic rule after the 2020 election it said was riven with fraud.State television routinely fills programming with positive images of Myanmar – showing schools and health centres being built while hailing exports and development projects.

On Monday, Myanmar state media carried Hlaing’s visit to Russia, a major weapons supplier to his army and one of few allies left.

The Senior General has been ostracised from most international gatherings since leading last year’s coup, including last month by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – a forum which by habit embraces cooperation over castigating fellow members.