A prominent rebel group in eastern Myanmar on Sunday appealed to other ethnic armies to unite against the military as the country enters its fourth month under a junta regime.
Myanmar has been in crisis since civil leader Aung San Suu Kyi was overthrown in a coup d’état on February 1, sparking a massive uprising across the country.
While security forces have deployed deadly violence against civilians to suppress a persistent anti-junta movement, some of Myanmar’s numerous ethnic armies have demonstrated against the military.
Among the most prominent opponents is the Karen National Union (KNU), which has admitted offering shelter to dissidents fleeing the territory they control along the eastern border of Myanmar.
Clashes have escalated in Karen’s state between KNU fighters and the military.
Last week, rebels attacked and razed a military base. The junta retaliated with air strikes and rocket launchers aimed at rebel-controlled territory.
On Sunday – after five days of air strikes – the deputy chief of staff of the KNU armed wing wrote an open letter calling for all Karen fighters to unite, regardless of their loyalty.
“There has never been such a great opportunity during more than 70 years of revolution. Take advantage of this and fight the Burmese military dictatorship,” said Lt. Gen. Baw Kyaw Heh.
“In our generation, we will remain united … to escape the military dictatorship.”
His letter was addressed to two other rebel groups in Karen state – the Karen Democratic Buddhist Army and the KNU / KNLA Peace Council, a group formed by a former KNU commander. Both remained silent since the coup.
State media reported last week that its officials met with the junta in separate meetings to discuss “peace processes”.
Baw Kyaw Heh also called for unity among Karen fighters in the Border Guard Forces (BGF) – a subdivision of the Myanmar military made up of former ethnic rebels.
“So, BGF, as you are Karen, you need to think about it carefully and make the right decision,” he said. “Karen’s people shouldn’t kill themselves.”
Myanmar has more than 20 rebel ethnic groups, many of which have territories in the country’s border regions.
A confused struggle for autonomy, control of the lucrative production of drugs and natural resources has long pitted them against each other and against the military.
Since the coup, in addition to fighting the KNU in the east, the junta has also been involved in artillery bombings and air strikes against the Kachin Independence Army in the north.
Unity among rebel groups seems an unlikely prospect due to their fighting and a longstanding widespread distrust of the ethnic Bamar majority in Myanmar.