Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government (NUG) has welcomed the U.S. Senate’s passage of the BURMA Act, which will enable President Joe Biden to spend-up on non-lethal support for multi-ethnic forces fighting the country’s military junta.
It also serves as a political threat by enabling the United States to negotiate directly with the NUG, which the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has refused to do since the February 2021 coup d’etat, while insisting on talks with the junta led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
That approach was an abysmal failure.
The Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2022 – or BURMA Act – was passed by the senate last Thursday as part of a U.S. military spending bill, the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
“The BURMA Act will provide much-needed hope and support to the struggling people of our country,” NUG Acting President Duwa Lashi La said in a statement. “We look forward to President Biden soon signing it into law.”
It’s a timely piece of legislation as Myanmar’s dry season is setting in, which is when the NUG armed wing, the Peoples Defense Force (PDF), is expected to go on the offensive with just over half the country already under its control.
According to the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, the military has stable control over just 17 percent of Myanmar. The remaining 23 percent is contested.
In part, the legislation is designed to prevent the junta from gaining weapons and legitimacy while blocking its businesses from operating outside the country. It will also force the Biden administration to introduce sanctions against the junta and supporters who undermine democratic institutions.
The BURMA Act also opens up the prospect of direct negotiations with all groups opposing the junta – not just the NUG and PDF. That list includes the National Unity Consultative Council, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, and ethnic armed organizations in Myanmar.
On the wider international front the legislation will aid political efforts in drumming up support for the NUG, which is ambiguous. The United Nations continues to recognize Aung San Kyi as the legitimate head of state in Myanmar, as do many states. But the junta is challenging this. Importantly, last Friday the U.N. General Assembly postponed its decision on whether Myanmar’s military government and Afghanistan’s Taliban can send their ambassadors to the U.N. in New York.
U.N. acceptance of ambassadors from the Tatmadaw in Naypyidaw and the Taliban in Kabul would be their first diplomatic step towards winning official recognition on the global stage.
That vote, however, can now be postponed into the future while the 77th session of the General Assembly, which expires in September next year, continues its work.
It’s stalling for time which the NUG and PDF need to get their respective houses in order.
Disunity remains a persistent issue among the official 135 major ethnic groups and seven ethnic minority states that contribute to opposition forces and they are far from agreement on many issues as the carnage continues.
This was highlighted during recent heavy fighting in the northern Shan state, where the junta insisted it was attempting to engage the PDF but instead fighting erupted with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), including 30 military-launched airstrikes.
The Irrawaddy reported that at least 70 junta soldiers were killed and 28 captured by the TNLA, which has been fighting for autonomy for the ethnic Palaung or Ta’ang people.
Human rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says more than 2,500 civilians have now been killed across the country since the coup, many during the crackdown on protests.
Additionally, Duwa Lashi La recently said about 20,000 junta soldiers have been killed, an increase of 500 deaths since September, and at least 2,000 pro-democracy fighters have also died.
Those numbers are impossible to verify, but they still offer a grim insight into a nationwide civil war that will soon enter its third year. However, the BURMA Act should substantially bolster opposition stocks and provide the backbone for negotiations and support – and a brighter 2023 for the NUG.