Rebel commanders call for international intervention in Myanmar's civil war

Exclusive: As Myanmar's civil war sparked by a military coup against the democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi intensifies, rebel commanders say there are signs the country's junta is becoming increasingly stretched.

Major General Nerdah Bo Mya with soldiers in Myanmar.

Major General Nerdah Bo Mya (centre) has called for an internationally enforced no-fly zone to protect civilians. Source: Henry Zwartz

It looks like the small group of young men in military fatigues are playing with the drone, as they excitedly go through the controls. A dog walks over and they pat it, feeding it a treat. A moment of bizarre calm in Myanmar's civil war which has claimed thousands of lives and displaced tens of thousands of civilians. 

Hours later the laptop-sized drone is being used to drop milk-carton sized bombs on a Myanmar junta convoy. Video from the drone shows massive plumes of smoke from the explosions, which hit a line of junta military trucks.

A new year and a new tactic by pro-democracy forces in Myanmar seeking to counteract the junta's combat helicopters and fighter jets. 

Myanmar's civil war, sparked by a military coup against the democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February last year, is showing no signs of slackening. In fact all signs point to an intensification of the war.

Aung Sun Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar's National League for Democracy Party, is expected to retain power.
Aung Sun Suu Kyi. Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

The conflict has spread to every corner of the country and involved multiple ethnic armed groups - longstanding ceasefire agreements signed between the Myanmar military and those groups are now in tatters. 

Intensified air strikes by junta forces saw 20 civilians killed in the north-west Sagiang region in recent days, with 40 houses burned to the ground. It's the latest in a series of massacres allegedly committed by junta forces.

During Christmas, more than 30 civilians — including two international aid workers from Save The Children  — were killed in air attacks. Footage of their charred bodies — as well as villages in Chin State flattened by bombs —sparked international condemnation and calls by the United Nations for a "thorough investigation."

In an interview with SBS News on the frontline in Karen State, Major General Nerdah Bo Mya called for an internationally enforced no-fly zone to protect civilians.

"They bomb the civilian areas, they use jet fighters.  It is necessary for the UN to enforce certain regulations so they set up a no fly zone so they won't attack civilians," he said.

Those calls are backed by Myanmar's National Unity civilian government in exile. 

"Only international concern and a statement is not enough. The military is every day committing crimes, terrorist acts against the people. People are dying, and it comprises international crimes against humanity," Aung Min Myo, an National Unity Government spokesperson said.

Since new year's day, there has been no let up in the fierce gun battles between the ethnic armed groups and the military junta, with signs junta forces are struggling.

Rebels have claimed to have captured the flashpoint town of Demoso this week.

For Major General Nerdah Bo Mya, the victory in Demoso was a sign that the junta can be defeated. 

Major General Nerdah Bo Mya.
Major General Nerdah Bo Mya. Source: Henry Zwartz

"Our soldiers are in a good shape, we have good morale and we will keep fighting and pushing them until they collapse," he said. 

"If we don't give up we can never lose, freedom and victory start from the heart, when you don't give up you can never lose."

The Major General said Karen forces had inflicted as many as 400 Myanmar junta casualties since the start of December. Those claims haven't been verified, but recent footage seen by SBS News has shown dozens of dead soldiers in junta uniforms. 

Phil Thornton is a senior Myanmar analyst with the International Federation of Journalists.

He said there were signs the Myanmar junta was becoming increasingly stretched is it fought multiple ethnic armed groups as well as pro-democracy PDF forces right across the country.

Members of the People's Defence forces from the 101 Company during military training at the forest of Kayin State. The People's Defence force (PDF) is the armed wing of Myanmar's National Unity Government.
The People's Defence Force, the armed wing of the National Unity Government. Source: AAP

"There are major battles happening along the India-Myanmar border as well as the Thai-Myanmar border. In the past the Myanmar junta would fight just one ethnic group at a time, and sign ceasefire agreements with others. But now that isn't the case. I don't see the junta being able to sustain this fighting for too long."

Mr Thornton said the junta was targetting civilians because it believed they were supporting the ethnic armed forces.

"The junta is using technology to pick up heat signatures of villagers hiding in the jungle at night, so they can launch air strikes and artillery bombardments during the day. It's barbaric," he said.

Saw Way Nah Mu joined the Karen fighters when he saw live rounds being used on pro-democracy protestors in June last year. 

A former cruise ship worker, he's now speaking to SBS on the frontlines of the conflict in Karen State. 

"I want to protect the people as much as we can as much so we can support the people who is protecting the civilians."

" So I am really proud of myself to work this kind of job right now."

For Major General Nerdah Bo Mya, the objective is clear.

"We will fight for democracy until we win, there can be no other way. We won't give up."

5 min read
Published 7 January 2022 at 6:14am
By Henry Zwartz
Source: SBS News