Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has called on armed ethnic groups involved in the ongoing offensive in the country’s northeast to put down their weapons and solve their problems “politically.”
The junta chief told a government meeting on Monday that “if armed organizations keep on being foolish, residents of the relevant regions will suffer bad impacts,” the Global New Light of Myanmar reported yesterday. “So, it is necessary to consider the lives of the people, and those organizations need to solve their problems politically, discarding their naughty moves.”
It is hard to know what to think of this statement, which was buried in a lengthy address in which the general discussed the actions of the “terrorists” opposing military rule, the challenges facing the coffee and rubber sectors, and a reaffirmation of “Our Three Main National Causes: non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity, and perpetuation of sovereignty.”
But it comes at a time of battlefield reversals for the military administration since the launch in late October of Operation 1027. Spearheaded by the Three Brotherhood Alliance of armed resistance groups, the offensive has overrun junta positions across the northern part of Shan State and seized control of key towns and border crossings with China. With the military reeling in Shan State, ethnic armed groups in other parts of the country have taken the opportunity to launch attacks elsewhere, and the military currently faces the most serious challenge since the coup of February 2021.
During his address on Monday, Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup and has since installed himself as the head of the military State Administration Council, described the impacts of the “current armed disturbances.” These included the Arakan Army’s recent attacks on junta positions in Rakhine State, and the gains made by the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force, which now surrounds Loikaw, the capital of Karenni (Kayah) State in eastern Myanmar.
Indeed, the recent gains have prompted some observers to predict that the collapse of the military – severely overstretched, almost universally reviled, and struggling to replace its losses – is increasingly likely, if not inevitable.
Seen in this context, are Min Aung Hlaing’s comments, which were reported by Reuters, the first sign of the military’s willingness to negotiate a way out of its current predicament? Writing in Asia Times last month, Anthony Davis suggested that if the resistance gains continue, this is a likely path for the regime. He wrote, “It is reasonable to expect that either on the watch of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing or, more likely, after his departure, a proposal for a cessation of hostilities and negotiations will emerge from Naypyidaw.”
Whether or not this is true, the National Unity Government (NUG), which is loosely coordinating the multifarious resistance to military rule, yesterday rejected the possibility of talks – as well it might at a time of ascendance. In comments to Reuters, NUG spokesperson Kyaw Zaw said that the military was seeking “an exit route” simply because they are “losing badly on the ground.”
“There would be genuine dialogue if the military guarantees that it no longer has a role in politics,” he said. “They must be under an elected government.”
While the military regime is clearly facing challenges on multiple fronts – I haven’t yet mentioned the desperate economic situation – it is easy to read too much into poorly paraphrased comments in Myanmar’s notoriously wooden state media. In this sense, Min Aung Hlaing’s reference to ethnic rebel groups solving their problems “politically” may say nothing about the military’s determination to fight to the bitter end, if necessary.
Bertil Lintner, a long-time observer of Myanmar, this week wrote an article for The Irrawaddy in which he sounded a note of caution about the military’s imminent collapse. Lintner argued that despite the “unprecedented” events of the past six weeks, “the bitter reality is vastly different from the optimistic assessments of the situation that many international and local observers have indulged in since Operation 1027 was launched.” He said that “this is a war neither side can win and the situation won’t change until and unless something more unexpected and decisive than Operation 1027 happens.”