The acting leader of Myanmar’s government-in-exile said resistance forces are in control of about 60% of the country’s territory and poised to threaten the ruling junta in key strongholds as fighting rages across the Southeast Asian nation.
Violence has intensified in Myanmar as the military led by Min Aung Hlaing, facing a crumbling economy and growing signs of dissent within his regime, struggles to keep up with a multi-front conflict from several armed ethnic groups. A shadow government allied with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and formed after the 2021 coup, along with other armed ethnic groups, have been ramping up ground attacks with an eye on new military operations, including near the capital city of Naypyidaw.
“It has been more than two years since we started the people’s defense war. Now, cooperation between PDFs and ethnic revolutionary forces are yielding good results,” Duwa Lashi La, the acting president of the exiled National Unity Government, said in an interview Thursday, referring to his armed wing. “We are now in a position to even threaten Naypyidaw.”
While the junta still oversees key cities, an assessment by a group of Myanmar experts last year said the military retained stable control of just 17% of the country’s total land area. Local media have reported recent attacks in the capital, including on a junta airbase this month.
Major General Zaw Min Tun, lead spokesman for the ruling State Administration Council, didn’t answer calls seeking comment on the extent of the opposition’s control of the country. The regime views the NUG and its allies as terrorists.
The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution in December demanding an end to violence in Myanmar as well as the release of political prisoners. While the resolution’s impact was limited after China, Russia and India abstained, the junta’s ability to generate revenue has still faced setbacks partly due to several rounds of economic sanctions by the US and its partners.
The junta has nevertheless expanded assaults against its civilian population of 55 million, including nearly 700 air strikes between April 2022 and July of this year. That’s more than double carried out in the 14 months following the 2021 coup, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said this week. He said the military has also conducted mass killings and burned villages as it seeks to deter civilians from cooperating with its enemies.
NUG leader Duwa Lashi La, a Kachin politician and lawyer, said resistance fighters have seized more than 100 junta outposts throughout the country following thousands of clashes with government troops this year and last. It has also facilitated about 14,000 military defections, he added.
Morale in the junta has been called into question, while a corruption probe recently saw two lieutenant generals close to Min Aung Hlaing replaced. Widespread unrest recently prompted the regime to extend a state of emergency for another six months until Jan. 31, dashing hopes of a general election this year.
“It is very encouraging to see that more military personnel are trying to reach out to us via our informers at different government offices,” Duwa Lashi La said. “There are negotiations in progress for some brigadier generals to defect but they haven’t joined yet.”
With the pro-democracy icon and the de facto leader of the ousted civilian government, Suu Kyi, facing life in prison, the acting president of the NUG said there was little transparency over the state of her health. Even if she were released, though, it might not change the course of the conflict.
“There may be something Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wants to be and we will have to take it into consideration,” he said. “But we will not change our direction for her voice only.”