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Asia

Myanmar minorities threaten to escalate their struggle

Rebels in the eastern part of Myanmar (Burma) are threatening to escalate their struggle against the government. Thousands of people have fled the region.

Soldiers of the Shan State Army during a ceremony at Le Char in southern Shan State, northeast of Yangon

Soldiers of the Shan State Army during a ceremony at Le Char in southern Shan State, northeast of Yangon

The Shan State Army is one of the biggest rebel armies in Myanmar. It has pledged that there will be an escalation of fighting with the Burmese military unless the junta is ready to hold talks with the country's ethnic minorities.

Thousands of new recruits have been trained over the past weeks in the jungles of the northeastern Shan State, claims the commander of the Shan State Army, General Yawd Serk.

Unstable border region

Yawd Serk, leader of the Shan State Army

Yawd Serk, leader of the Shan State Army

He is calling on Myanmar's rebel groups to join hands in fighting the military. "If we take on the armed forces together, we are as strong as they are. Even if they have more arms and better equipment than we have, they cannot defeat us because their soldiers are not as determined as ours," he says. "If the military regime is not ready to enter into a dialogue with the minority groups, the ongoing fighting will spread to other parts of the country."

The military is dominated by Myanmar's ethnic majority, the Burmans. For decades, the military has been unable to control many border regions, where more than 100 ethnic minorities, comprising more than 30 percent of Myanmar's population, are concentrated.

Precarious security situation

In the past, the junta tacitly accepted the fact that different rebel armies controlled these territories. The junta also struck ceasefire deals with them. But recently, the regime has sought to expand its control by integrating the rebel groups into the military-run Border Guard Force.

This has triggered widespread anger among the minorities and led to a number of clashes with the army this year. In several minority areas, the regime called off the general elections in November, citing the precarious security situation as a reason.

Refugees fleeing across Thai border

Myanmar refugees in Mae Sot, Thailand

Myanmar refugees in Mae Sot, Thailand

But analysts believe that the military-backed party would not have stood a chance in elections against the local candidates. On the election day, November 7, heavy fighting erupted between rebels of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army DKBA and Burmese forces in Myawaddy, a town on the border with Thailand. Although the rebels were driven away after a couple of days, the fighting continues in the region.

"The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army had a ceasefire agreement with the government. But they were being pressurized more and more, until they couldn't take it any longer and took up their arms again - which was the best decision they could take," Yawd Serk says.

Fearing more fighting, thousands of people of the Karen minority have fled across the Thai border during the past weeks. After marching through the jungle for days, they crossed the river to Mae Sot, where hundreds of thousands of refugees from Myanmar have been living in overcrowded camps for years.

Author: Bernd Musch-Borowska / tb

Editor: Arun Chowdhury

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