May 4, 2010
Burma is drawing severely close to widespread civil war. Tensions between the ruling military junta and numerous ethnic armed forces have reached their highest in 20 years and look likely to cause an eruption of violence in coming months.
Continued demands from military rulers, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), on all non-state armed groups to join the national forces continue to be rejected, leaving over a dozen decades-old ceasefires perilously under threat. In a country where civilians are routinely targeted by the government as part of military strategy, the expected outcomes are nothing short of horrific.
On April 28th, the final deadline passed for all of Burma’s ceasefire armies to accept the junta’s Border Guard Force plan, a process that aims to bring them under direct state control and work to eradicate all remaining insurgents. Determined to stay autonomous until their people are given greater rights to civil, political and humane justice, almost all groups have rejected the plan calling for a political dialogue to achieve national reconciliation.
As SPDC troops move in on “ceasefire zones”, thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes, many not for the first time, in search of refuge. Some have moved into Thailand across its northern and western borders while others have remained in Burma fleeing to the jungle or deeper into ceasefire zones. There are an estimated 1-3 million internally displaced people in Burma and over 150,000 refugees in Thailand. These figures could rise dramatically if the SPDC carries out its threats that “war will break out like it did in 1989.”
During the month of April, numerous statements were made by ethnic leaders calling for peaceful solutions to the nation’s protracted military and political tensions. However these requests have been met with persistent threats of violence from the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) forcing the groups to prepare for battle.
After almost a year of threats from the SPDC, speculation that conflict would reignite appears to be becoming a reality. Everyday seems to take Burma a step closer to widespread civil war and it is fast becoming a question of not if but when. The clearest indicators that heightened conflict is imminent have been shown by the civilians who have fled their homes, stopped trading or put prices up on their market stalls. For the older generations who experienced widespread civil war in the 1980s these are likely all warning signs of a return to the struggle of living amongst conflict.
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