Who Is Fighting The Military Junta In Myanmar?
Popular protests against the Tatmadaw's coup of February 1st in Myanmar have opened up a new spirit of resistance among many of its “ethnic armed organizations” (EAOs).
At least 21 EAOs, and several more communal armed groups, are active or control the border states of Myanmar. Due to the extreme repression of pro-democracy protestors, many EAOs have reignited their decades long resistance against the Tatmadaw's junta. Since independence in 1948, Myanmar (previously known as Burma) has undergone a national identity crisis and has failed to deliver on the aspirations of the many diverse ethnic groups within its borders. Born from the legacy of the colonial period, Myanmar has retained and institutionalized the notion of ethnic identity which has created deep division nationwide.
The idea of ethnic or religious supremacy and the embracing of racist notions has served the exclude those deemed to be insufficiently “indigenous”. These supremacy notions are pushed by the Burman & Buddhist majority Tatmadaw and it prevents other ethnic or religious groups from fully participating in politics and state institutions. The lack of representation in government for diverse ethnic groups also translates to a lack of full protection under the constitutional bill of rights. Rampant discrimination and hate fueled by supremacy ideologues run wild across Myanmar. This level of communal tyranny has pushed many ethnic minority groups to take up arms against the state. Ethnic minority grievances toward the state have perpetuated some of the world’s longest-running armed conflicts. Ethnic groups have armed themselves and challenged the Tatmadaw since the country's independence.
Despite a brief period of 'democracy' Myanmar did little to address minority grievances, build an inclusive national identity, or create any plan of action to defuse ethnic tensions. One of the most recent consequences of Myanmar's ethnic and religious supremacy concepts was the Rohingya genocide by the Tatmadaw, which had state approval including the NLD.
Numerous long-term EAO insurgencies are resisting the Tatmadaw across Myanmar, in areas inhabited by minority communities. Tatmadaw mainly keeps EAOs at bay by using ethnic mercenary groups local to each region as proxy fighters. The incentives for ethnic groups to help the Tatmadaw are considerable and involve interlinked ethno-nationalist and economic imperatives. Conversely, armed groups EAO and Tatmadaw alike are well positioned to profit from the illicit economy that has developed over decades in these areas. The illicit economy includes drug trafficking, human trafficking, rape slave trafficking, arms trafficking, and organ trafficking which produces the revenues necessary for arming and operating a powerful militia.
Currently, the Tatmadaw makes most of its multi-billion dollar revenue through organized crime and the jade trade industry, while many EAOs are heavily into the methamphetamine industry to fund their arms. EAOs are forced to partake in illicit industries out of necessity. The existence of the Tatmadaw and its repressive inner circle in power fuel and empower criminal activity, social and financial inequality, loot Myanmar's wealth and suppress democracy.