Myanmar Rebel Group Withdraws from a Key Town Near the Thai Border

On April 24, 2024, an armed ethnic group named the Karen National Union (KNU) pulled back its forces following a violent counterattack by the junta, who successfully regained control of a key trading post, Myawaddy. This town serves as a conduit for over $1 billion in foreign aid. The rebel group, the Karen National Union, had previously taken control of Myawaddy earlier in April. The juntas were able to counterattack the Karen National Union due to aid from the regional militia that had previously stood back and allowed the Karen National Union to seize Mywaddy. 

Myanmar remains in a civil war between its military and the weak coalition of long-standing ethnic minority armies, alongside a resistance movement that emerged in response to the ruling junta’s violent dissent following its coup on February 1, 2021. According to an article published by Reuters, “Fighting had flared as recently as Saturday in Myawaddy, forcing 3,000 civilians to flee in a single day”. Fortunately, as of April 25, 2024, Thailand’s foreign ministry stated that fighting had slowed down and that Thailand aimed to reopen its borders, as the majority of citizens have returned. According to Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mr. Nikorndej “most of the refugees have returned and that reflects that the situation is not getting more violent” which is a positive feat. 

The conflict between the military juntas and the KNU is constantly shifting, as both forces experienced victories and losses. The junta counterattack on April 24, 2024, was unnecessarily violent and caused significant turmoil in Myawaddy, harming citizens and putting their lives at risk. The situation in Myawaddy is very uncertain, and although displaced citizens have returned, Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Ministry says that the political unrest in Myanmar needs to be monitored closely. It would be highly beneficial for both the juntas and the rebel groups to come to a peaceful resolution instead of displacing citizens and failing to address the destroyed Myanmar economy. Thailand recently proposed an impressive peace initiative to Laos, which is the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, urging them to facilitate a meeting to resolve the crisis taking place in Myanmar. 

Following the junta’s counteroffensive, their troops hoisted their flag at a military base previously under the control of the KNU just days prior, replacing the rebel flag that had been flying there. The current military regime in Myanmar is confronting its most formidable obstacle since assuming power in 1962. Due to a military coup on February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s economy has been in shambles. The 2021 military coup began after tensions escalated between the military and citizens after Myanmar’s election in November 2020 and has caused a decade of reforms and the gradual rise of democracy to be erased. Myanmar has witnessed many strong rebel groups challenge its various military juntas. Notable among these are the Shan State Army, which represents the Shan ethnic minority, and the Kachin Independence Army which were created in the 1960s and have since been rebelling against the junta to achieve basic rights for their ethnic groups. Since February 2021, the military junta has been able to maintain its hold on power and keep strict control over Myanmar’s politics. However, the juntas have recently lost control of many key areas to rebel groups such as the KNU.

Laos and the countries who are part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must accept Thailand’s proposed peace plan and aid them in ending the conflict happening in Myanmar before it causes more refugees and violence and further damages its economy. The political instability in Myanmar in the past few years caused Myanmar to declare a state of emergency in 2021, which is significant and needs to be prevented in the future. Since the beginning of their resistance on October 27, 2024, the rebels in Myanmar have made notable gains in both territory and power, now holding control over the majority of Myanmar’s borders. The military’s grip on power is gradually weakening as they relinquish control of more territories to the rebels. This trend could potentially pave the way for the resolution of the conflict and the eventual restoration of peace in society, which is the end goal.