Junta tries a divide and conquer strategy in Shan State

The military council is calling Operation 1027 an ‘invasion’, allowing anti-China demonstrations, and trying to inflame inter-ethnic tension

In its efforts to counter Operation 1027 in northern Shan State, the Myanmar military regime has called the coordinated offensive an “invasion” and adopted rhetoric stoking hostility against minority communities and China.

The three ethnic armed groups comprising the Brotherhood Alliance—the Arakan Army (AA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the ethnically Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—launched Operation 1027 in northern Shan State at the end of last month.

Military council spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun dismissed clashes in the state near the Myanmar-China border as a “family matter” at the beginning of November. On Sunday, after junta forces had reportedly lost control of more than 100 bases, several towns, and major trade routes, he referred to the coordinated attacks on military targets as an “invasion.”

These remarks came a day after demonstrations held outside the Chinese embassy in Yangon, in which participants accused China of interfering in Myanmar’s internal affairs. On November 8, regime-run newspapers also published reports that junta chief Min Aung Hlaing said he believes China is providing tacit support for Operation 1027.

On Tuesday, Zaw Min Tun accused the TNLA and MNDAA of deliberately starting battles in areas with a Shan ethnic majority.

“They’re now occupying Shan people’s homes and properties. They’re attacking military bases from there. We have also seen the Shan people begin to speak out about the silence on these matters from the organisations representing them in Shan State,” Zaw Min Tun said in a quote in a regime-run news outlet.

Posts on pro-junta propaganda Telegram channels have also accused the Brotherhood Alliance of deploying ethnically Bamar fighters—who make up the majority in certain anti-junta armed groups supporting Operation 1027—in preference to sending their own co-ethnics into battle. 

Of the ethnically Shan political and armed organisations active in Shan State, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA)—with around 8,000 members—and the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA)—with around 10,000 members—are the largest and most powerful. 

The RCSS/SSA is a signatory of the 2015 National Ceasefire Agreement between the Myanmar military and nine ethnic armed organisations, and regularly engages in dialogue with the junta.

The SSPP/SSA is not a signatory and has sometimes joined forces with the TNLA in combat against the military.

However, relations between the SSPP/SSA and TNLA are sometimes tense and even lead to violence.

A shootout between TNLA and SSPP/SSA fighters on November 7–reportedly stemming from reasons unrelated to the Brotherhood Alliance’s conflict with the military–resulted in four deaths and several injuries, according to a TNLA statement. The SSPP/SSA released their own statement promising to investigate the matter.

The two armed organisations also clashed in Kutkai Township, northern Shan State in September.

Despite its past alliances with the TNLA, SSPP/SSA leader Col. Sai Su said earlier this month that his group would not choose sides in the fight between the military and the Brotherhood Alliance, and that both sides should be extremely cautious to avoid harm to civilians.

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