Facing its most significant challenge since the 2021 coup, the Myanmar junta is losing ground to a rebel alliance, according to information from a rebel commander, diplomats, and analysts.
The northern parts of Myanmar, particularly areas along the border with China, have been overtaken by the alliance, comprising three influential ethnic armed groups. This marks a notable victory for the resistance against the military junta.
The most intense clashes have occurred in northern Shan state, near Myanmar’s border with China. The combined efforts of the ethnic armed groups have led to an offensive capturing multiple towns and military outposts in recent weeks.
Myanmar’s military-appointed president expressed concern on Thursday, stating that the country is at risk of breaking apart due to the insufficient handling of the insurgency.
Responding to the escalating situation in Myanmar, China’s foreign ministry announced on Friday that Beijing would ensure security and stability along its border with Myanmar.
China urged all parties involved to cease fighting immediately. Meanwhile, anti-junta fighters, displaying “unprecedented coordination,” have reportedly taken control of 100 military outposts.
The junta now faces the potential loss of key border crossings, which constitute around 40% of cross-border trade and a crucial source of tax revenue, according to the United States Institute of Peace think-tank.
As a result of the conflict in Shan, approximately 50,000 people have been displaced, with ongoing artillery shelling and airstrikes. Some individuals have sought refuge in China, as reported by the United Nations on Friday.
“It is very significant,” said one diplomat with knowledge of the assault named by opposition groups as “Operation 1027”, after the date it started.
“This is the weakest the Tatmadaw has been since the coup,” the diplomat said, referring to Myanmar’s military and asking not to be named. Two other diplomats agreed with that assessment.
A junta spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Maung Saungkha, leader of the Bamar People’s Liberation Army, which contributed troops to the offensive, told Reuters the rebel alliance had spent more than a year preparing to take on the better-armed military.
The operation was “the biggest and most successful of the Spring Revolution”, he said, referring to the popular uprising against the junta that ousted a democratically elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021.
Resistance groups are working closely to batter the already stretched military, said an adviser to Myanmar’s parallel civilian administration, known as the National Unity Government, which has backed separate assaults on towns in Sagaing division.
“This opportunity will never ever come back,” said the adviser, who declined to be named.
So far, rebel troops have faced unexpectedly weak opposition from the military, according to analysts and resistance leaders who spoke to local media.
The offensive puts further pressure on a military leadership already facing biting economic sanctions, a foreign exchange shortage and a corruption crisis that has ensnared several of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing’s allies, the diplomats said.
Myanmar’s relationship with China has also been strained over border issues and the latest offensive, led by the “Brotherhood Alliance” comprising the Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, could not have been carried out if Beijing had opposed it, the diplomats said.
Beijing has in recent months been putting pressure on Myanmar to crack down on criminal syndicates running massive telecoms and other online scams from the border areas.
In a statement announcing the operation, the alliance said they intended to remove those enclaves, which they said were protected by the junta.
But China, which seeks to protect major economic investments in the area, has also called for a ceasefire and confirmed this week that there had been Chinese casualties because of firing from the Myanmar fighting spilling over.
While the junta has been weakened, the diplomats said the possibility of an imminent collapse of the armed forces was remote, though they could lose more territory.
“If the regime is able to mount a decisive response, it will likely be able to reopen the trade routes to China,” said Richard Horsey, senior Myanmar adviser at the International Crisis Group.
“If not, this will be seen as a sign of historic weakness.”
With inputs from Reuters.