Myanmar Ethnic Alliance Continues Gains, Despite China-Brokered Ceasefire

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Myanmar Ethnic Alliance Continues Gains, Despite China-Brokered Ceasefire

A day after Beijing announced the negotiated ceasefire, resistance forces were reported to have seized a key town and border trade zone.

Myanmar Ethnic Alliance Continues Gains, Despite China-Brokered Ceasefire

A vista of Namhsan, in the northern part of Myanmar’s Shan State, which was seized by resistance forces last week.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Ninjastrikers

Despite a temporary ceasefire brokered by China, ethnic rebel forces have continued to make significant gains in northeastern Myanmar, reportedly capturing a significant town and a trade zone close on the Chinese border.

Fighting has been raging since late October, when the Three Brotherhood Alliance – a group consisting of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army (AA) – launched offensives against military positions in northern Shan State.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry stated that after a meeting in the Chinese city of Kunming on December 11, the two sides had “reached agreement on a number of arrangements, including the temporary ceasefire.” As a result, the spokesperson said, the conflict in northern Myanmar has been notably deescalating, which not only serves the interest of relevant parties in Myanmar but also helps ensure peace and tranquility at the China-Myanmar border area.”

While the situation has reportedly grown calmer in regions controlled by the MNDAA, the following day brought reports of continued fighting and significant gains by the TNLA.

First, local media reported the TNLA’s seizure of Namhsan, a town in the western part of the Alliance’s areas of operation in northern Shan State. The TNLA posted video footage on Facebook showing leaders of the group visiting the town and talking to soldiers that it had taken prisoner. Images latter surfaced on social media showing massive piles of ammunition that the TNLA supposedly captured from the Myanmar military after the town’s capture.

The same day also brought reports that the Alliance has now seized control of the 105-Mile Trade Zone about 10 kilometers outside Muse, a major city that is a border crossing point with China. According to Myanmar Now, which cited local residents, the Alliance overran the military’s last remaining tactical base, located on a hill near the trade zone, on Friday morning. The report was subsequently confirmed by the TNLA, which told the AFP news agency that it was in full control of the 105-Mile Trade Zone.

The Alliance has been closing in on Muse for some time. In late November, its forces captured a military base at the Kyin San Kyawt border crossing, one of five in the Zone. It has also captured other military camps in the vicinity of Muse.

The two successes continues the gains of the Alliance has been launching Operation 1027 in late October. Since then it has made considerable gains, seizing 422 bases and seven towns from Myanmar’s army since October 27.

Of the two successes, the control of the border trade zone is potentially the more significant. Even though Muse itself remains under control, the Muse border trade zone accounts for a huge amount of Myanmar’s crossborder trade with China. (Exactly how much remains unclear: The Irrawaddy claims 70 percent, and Myanmar now 90 percent.) Either way, “losing the 105-Mile Trade Zone is a big deal for the military,” Myanmar Now quoted one local businessperson as saying. “You could say that it’s their lifeline in northern Shan State.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson did not give a date for when the ceasefire would go into effect, and the Three Brotherhood Alliance said on Thursday on Telegram that it would “continue to implement the military and political objectives as anticipated since the implementation of Operation 1027.” This leaves open the possibility that these Alliance gains were intended to maximize its battlefield position ahead of a ceasefire deadline.

However, given the military’s limp response to the advance of Operation 1027, it remains to be seen whether a few weeks’ pause will make much difference to its future position in northern Shan State.