Myanmar: Junta Overruns Mindat

Welcome to Frontier Fridays. This week, the junta overwhelmed armed civilian resistance in Mindat Township in Chin State, Western countries announced new sanctions against the military regime, the Union Election Commission sparked controversy by calling another meeting and the Karen National Union began internal elections amid tensions over its response to the coup.

Source: Frontier Fridays
Protesters march in Mindat Township, Chin State, where fighting has raged in recent weeks. (AFP)

Mindat under attack On Saturday morning security forces reportedly managed to seize control of Mindat in Chin State, which has been a hotspot of armed civilian resistance in recent weeks. The junta's assault, which followed an ambush on a convoy of reinforcements, reportedly included the use of helicopters and heavy artillery. “The military’s use of weapons of war against civilians, including this week in Mindat, is a further demonstration of the depths the regime will sink to to hold power,” the US embassy said in a tweet. At least seven civilian fighters were reportedly killed, but the resistance claimed to have taken out many more Tatmadaw soldiers. Eventually, though, the civilian force – which is alternatively known as the Chinland Defence Force and the Mindat People's Defence Force – abandoned the town in order to reduce the risk to noncombatants. “We won’t fight back against their offensives and let the town be destroyed," one civilian fighter told Myanmar Now. As clashes escalated in Mindat, civilians rose up in other nearby cities in an apparent attempt to undermine the junta's offensives. Skirmishes also broke out in Kanpetlet, Chin State and Kyaukhtu Township in Magway Region, both of which are less than 50 kilometres from Mindat. One soldier was reportedly killed in Kyaukhtu while no fatalities were reported from either side in Kanpetlet. The Irrawaddy reported that the Tatmadaw artillery firing on Mindat is based in Kyaukhtu and some reinforcements have come from there. The fighters in Kyaukhtu might have been hoping to disrupt the junta’s assaults on Mindat to provide some relief. Still, those attempts to assist the fighters in Mindat were largely unsuccessful, underscoring the need for more coordination between anti-junta forces. "In a revolution you can’t fight alone. In the case of Mindat, the people fought alone and the uprising was quashed. If a revolt is to be staged, it would be better if all people rise up together on an appointed date so that the military can’t use all of its force on a particular town. If one town alone is resisting stiffly, the military will just use a larger force to suppress it," a defector from the navy told The Irrawaddy, in a piece of really sound advice. New sanctions rolled out Some Western countries took further coordinated action against the junta this week, with the United States, United Kingdom and Canada all announcing new sanctions against regime members and military-linked companies. The US announced sanctions against the State Administration Council as an entity and 16 individuals – 13 members of the military junta (either SAC or cabinet), and three adult children of junta officials. Secretary of State Antony Blinken cited the junta’s “continued violence” as justification for the sanctions, specifically mentioning the recent fighting in Mindat, Chin State. Included in the new slate of sanctions are the ministers for international cooperation and finance, the governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar and the chairman of the rejigged Union Election Commission. Combined with previous sanctions, the US has now designated a significant number of military regime officials. Some notable exceptions include social welfare minister Thet Thet Khine, foreign affairs minister Wunna Maung Lwin, foreign investment minister Aung Naing Oo, and electricity and energy minister Aung Than Oo. It’s not immediately obvious why these ministers have been passed over. There might be practical reasons – for example, they might anticipate having to work with Wunna Maung Lwin in future – or it could just be that they haven’t got to them yet. The list also included three adult children of high-ranking military officials (two children of a general and one of an admiral). Again, there was no specific explanation for why they were targeted, but it may be because of their business interests: Hein Htet, son of General Maung Maung Kyaw, is a director of a company called Paramount Events, while Yin Min Thu, daughter of Admiral Tin Aung San, is a director of Global Icon General Trading. Global Witness said the sanctions against the SAC are the "most significant" as it will "target all financial transactions, banking assets and other sources of revenue under the SAC's control". The decision seems to be an attempt to sanction the Myanmar military regime in its entirety without sanctioning the country itself, but it’s definitely the broadest sanction so far. UN special rapporteur Tom Andrews also said the SAC sanction is "one of the most significant steps" against the junta thus far and called for more countries to follow suit. “Not only is doing business with the junta morally reprehensible, it could now mean being cut off from the US financial system and/or facing criminal or civil penalties in the United States,” he said. As usual, Andrews added an appeal for sanctions on the oil and gas sector, saying profits from that have been "a lifeline for the junta", a demand echoed by Global Witness. Canada also sanctioned "16 individuals and 10 entities", including many of the same officials sanctioned by the US along with some military-linked companies. “Canada will continue to take additional actions, in coordination with our partners, should the Tatmadaw refuse to reverse course,” the statement said. One of the newly sanctioned entities is Myanma Gems Enterprise, a state-owned gemstone company that was also sanctioned by the UK the same day, and had already been sanctioned by the US. Canada targeted a few more companies, like Myanmar Pearl Enterprise and Myanmar Timber Enterprise, which had also already been sanctioned by the US. Global Witness once again called for sanctions against Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, the junta's main source of foreign currency in the formal economy. Meanwhile, Japan's foreign minister said the country is considering cutting off development assistance to Myanmar for ongoing projects, after already suspending any new aid back in March. "We don't want to do that at all, but we have to state firmly that it will be difficult to continue under these circumstances," Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Nikkei.


UEC meeting causes fractures

The Union Election Commission's invitation to political parties to attend another meeting has caused fresh fractures in the political landscape. The People's Party, founded by pro-democracy activist Ko Ko Gyi, was riven by mass resignations after deciding to attend today's meeting. The party's co-founder and general secretary resigned in protest, as did the regional chair, vice chair, secretary and other officials from the party's Mandalay chapter. In Rakhine, the Arakan National Party announced that it would not attend, shortly after the party chairman declared that the ANP would no longer cooperate with the junta. This decision had caused divisions within the party already, so boycotting the UEC meeting will likely do more damage. To complicate matters further, the Arakan Front Party said it will attend the meeting – this is probably less of a surprise given the junta released party chairman Aye Maung from prison back in February. The AFP is largely made up of former ANP members, and Aye Maung remains one of the most influential political figures in Rakhine, so this split could cause even more tension.


At a press conference on May 15, a UEC official said it was planning several amendments to election laws, which sounds like bad news. Khin Maung Oo said there would be unspecified changes to make voting eligibility and identification stricter, which could risk disenfranchising voters. He also said the UEC would target a recent amendment that allowed internal migrants to change their registration after 90 days of residency, but did not say how this would be changed. The original rule required voters to live somewhere for 180 days, and the decision to cut this by half was controversial among ethnic minority parties who believed it would allow Bamar migrants to essentially water down ethnic votes in those states. Khin Maung Oo again floated the idea of changing the voting system to proportional representation, which would significantly increase the military's chances of gaining the majority needed to select the president given they are already guaranteed 25 percent of seats in parliament.


Early reports indicate that the UEC announcedthe dissolution of the NLD for unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. We'll have more on this developing next week.


KNU elections begin

But the UEC isn't the only organisation planning an election, and Rakhine isn't the only state dealing with internal divisions. The Karen National Union has begun the process of voting for new leaders – something it does every four years – at a time when the armed group is at a crossroads on how to proceed with the fight against the Tatmadaw. The group has been one of the staunchest allies of the pro-democracy movement, but recently its chairman endorsed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and urged negotiations with the military. While the commander in Duplaya district backed up the chairman, other influential Karen leaders rejected this position, and internal tensions are spilling out into the open.


KNU township and village officials will elect their district chair, secretary and joint secretary, who will then vote on overall KNU leadership positions at a general assembly meeting. Expect the internal elections to largely be a referendum on whether to expand fighting against the Tatmadaw and work more closely with the National Unity Government. Given the tensions, the process could get messy.


A major-general in the Karen National Liberation Army, the KNU’s armed wing, has urged fellow members to avoid making divisive statements to media outlets. Major-General Saw Pilate Sein said all Karen in KNU areas must take caution in making statements so that they do not cause “incitement among ourselves” and “statements must be verified within the organization before they are out”. This is likely an attempt to calm down the heated emotions within the KNU, but it could also have been directed specifically at Mutu Say Poe, given his statement was the most divisive so far.


These summaries are drawn from our Daily Briefing, which informs our members every weekday about current affairs in Myanmar, and from our Media Monitor, which features translations of headlines and stories in Myanmar-language media. Take a free trial of the newsletters here.


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