Myanmar Round Up: March 2024
Dr Cchavi Vasisht, Research Associate, VIF

The situation in Myanmar remains troubled since the military coup in February 2021. Myanmar's military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, acknowledged the possibility that the country might not be able to conduct its next nationwide election. The military's control on power has resulted in hundreds of deaths, with Armed Forces Day marking one of the deadliest days since the coup. The military initiated the conscription drive, which sparked panic and resistance, with reports emerging of forced recruitment, including among Rohingya in Rakhine state. Ethnic armed groups have launched significant offensives, capturing military bases and outposts. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Arakan Army (AA) have cooperated in joint offensives against the military. The Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF) has made substantial territorial gains, and established an interim state government.

International responses have focussed on humanitarian assistance, with organisations and countries like the United Nations, ASEAN, Thailand and Japan providing aid to millions affected by the crisis. Neighbouring countries like India have grappled with the influx of refugees, leading to border fencing and increased security measures. India has also begun deporting Myanmar nationals who entered the country illegally following the coup. The round up below summaries and analyses all these developments.

Domestic and Political Situation

Due to the ongoing violence and unrest since the military seized power in February 2021, Myanmar's military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, admitted that the country might not be able to conduct its next election nationwide. Despite previous promises to hold elections, the focus is currently on verifying voter lists, with elections only possible once peace is restored, potentially leading to partial elections in stable areas. This statement follows the military's justification for their coup with claims of electoral fraud in the 2020 elections. A shift from a first-past-the-post to a proportional representation electoral system has also been made. The military faces significant challenges in suppressing armed opposition, including both pro-democracy groups and ethnic minority armed factions.

While territorial gains are made by resistance groups, they have often led to indiscriminate airstrikes by the military. ACLED data show just how widespread the phenomenon has become. From 1 November 2023 until 8 March 2024, the military carried out 588 airstrikes across Myanmar, of which 19% were against targets in Rakhine state. Of all strikes recorded in Rakhine so far, 34% have targeted civilians. It must be noted that on the Armed Forces Day in Myanmar, the military regime killed more than 100 people across the country, marking it as the deadliest day since the coup in February 2021. The violence occurred in 41 locations across 10 states and regions, including children among the victims. However, the protesters had designated the day as "Revolutionary Day" in opposition to the regime. Incidents of shootings were reported in Dala Township and Insein Township, with victims including not just protesters but also bystanders.

Despite facing challenges, the military celebrated Armed Forces Day and showcased its modern arsenal. The military parade in Naypyidaw featured various displays, including women soldiers and aerial demonstrations, highlighting ties with Russia. Speaking during Armed Forces Day, Min Hlaing accused ethnic armed groups of undermining democratic and federal values through misinformation and called for unity to restore peace. He suggested that the military needs to enhance its capabilities through new weaponry and increase troop numbers. The military initiated a conscription drive, issuing summon letters to civilians aged 18-45 (men) and 18-35 (women) for mandatory military service, under a law passed in 2010 but never implemented until now. This move led to widespread panic and resistance, with thousands fleeing or considering fleeing the country to avoid conscription. Video footage has surfaced showing Rohingya refugees from IDP camps in Rakhine state being trained suggesting forcible recruitment of young Rohingya to potentially serve as human shields. The drive has also sparked retaliatory attacks against military-appointed officials involved in the conscription process, leading to deaths and resignations.

Additionally, the military regime imposed martial law in three townships in northern Shan State - Namhsan, Mantong, and Namtu - recently seized by the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) during their offensive, causing fear among residents of a military attempt to retake these areas. This expansion of martial law, now covering over 60 townships nationwide, allows the military to enforce severe punishments based solely on suspicion. The military has also imposed widespread internet and phone line blackouts across approximately 80 townships, impacting regions such as Rakhine, Sagaing, Kayah State, and others. Despite these restrictions, reports indicate that in some places like the Rakhine capital, Sittwe state-owned telecom providers have been operational intermittently.

Despite recent peace talks aimed at maintaining a ceasefire and reopening border areas with China, the situation remains volatile. In March 2024, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) initiated a significant offensive in Kachin State, capturing three military junta bases and 11 outposts along the Myitkyina-Bhampo highway, aiming to safeguard their capital and control key trade routes. This offensive marks a resurgence in KIA's military activities after a period of relative inactivity, highlighting strategic coordination among Myanmar's ethnic resistance organisations. Additionally, on 7 March, the Arakan Army (AA) announced its cooperation with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in conducting joint offensives against the Myanmar military in Kachin State, while also pursuing its campaign in Rakhine State. The coordinated attacks targeted several military posts in Kachin, such as they successfully captured the Myanmar military's Infantry Battalion 237 headquarters in Momauk Township, Bhamo District, after a week-long offensive. The operation resulted in the seizure of over 200 weapons and significant ammunition, with at least 40 military soldiers killed. Later, they successfully captured three more Myanmar military battalion headquarters. [1] The capture of these strategic locations highlights the junta's declining control in the area. The AA also took control of Ponnagyun township in Rakhine State, continuing its advances despite a state-wide ceasefire in Shan. The operations aimed at weakening the Myanmar military, demonstrating the strategic alliance between the AA and KIA.

The Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF), along with its allies, claimed control over 90 percent of Karenni (Kayah) State following the launch of Operation 1111 in November 2023. This operation led to the capture of seven towns in Karenni State and one in southern Shan State's Pekon Township and only three towns in Karenni State remain under military control. The resistance forces have also taken over 65 military bases from the military, losing control over the Thai-Myanmar border. An Interim Executive Council has been established as the interim state government. Despite these advances, areas still under conflict or contaminated by landmines are not safe for civilian repatriation. In a demonstration of internal discipline, two KNDF troops were sentenced to 20 years and one month in prison for the death of a civilian, showing that KNDF troops are held accountable under their laws.

Furthermore, the auction of Aung San Suu Kyi's historic home in Yangon ordered by a military court and priced at about US$90 million, concluded without any buyers. Critics view the auction as an attempt by the military regime to erase the history of Myanmar's democratic movement. The home, where Suu Kyi spent nearly 15 years under house arrest, is seen as a symbol of the democracy movement and a place of cultural heritage. Despite the lack of bids, the outcome of a petition lodged by Suu Kyi's lawyers may lead to another auction attempt with a potentially revised price. The property, steeped in historical and political significance, has been the subject of a long-standing dispute between Suu Kyi and her elder brother. Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government has vowed to take legal action against the auction or sale, emphasising the property's significance and the legal and ethical controversies surrounding the auction.

International Responses

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar reported that 18.6 million people need assistance in 2024 due to conflict, insecurity, civilian safety threats, and inflation in Myanmar which is leading to a severe humanitarian crisis. The ongoing conflict has notably affected Rakhine, the Northwest, and Southeast Myanmar, displacing over 2.7 million people nationwide. Recent incidents, like a stray shell in Sittwe causing deaths and injuries, and food shortages due to infrastructure closures, underscore the crisis's severity. Despite a ceasefire bringing some stability to northern Shan, issues like landmine risks and forced recruitment remain. Humanitarian operations face challenges from active conflicts, access restrictions, and underfunding, with only 3.2 million reached in 2023. The 2024 response plan aims to assist 5.3 million people, needing $994 million.

In this background, Myanmar's UN Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun called on the UN Security Council to take decisive measures to halt the forced conscription of Myanmar's youth by the military, highlighting the risks faced by young people being drafted to serve as human shields and porters against anti-coup forces. He emphasised the growing humanitarian crisis and regional instability due to the military's actions, pointing to the rapid implementation of conscription laws and the targeting of Rohingya men for forced recruitment. Despite repeated appeals from Myanmar and the international community, including the National Unity Government, for action against the military's forced conscription, the ambassador expressed frustration over the UN's lack of response. He urged the UN to adopt an enforcement resolution, prevent arms and jet fuel from reaching the military, and ensure accountability for international crimes, criticising the UN Security Council's inaction as potentially complicit in the loss of innocent lives in Myanmar since the 2021 coup.

Given the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, on 25 March, the Thai Red Cross District Branch of Mae Sot provided 4,000 relief bags to the Myanmar Red Cross Society for displaced people in Myanmar, in a ceremony held on the Thai side of the 2nd Thailand-Myanmar Friendship Bridge. The assistance aims to support around 20,000 people in Myawaddy District, Kayin State. The ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) will ensure effective and transparent distribution of the aid. This initiative, part of the ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus, showcases Thailand's commitment to aiding those affected by conflict in Myanmar and strengthens humanitarian cooperation between Thailand, Myanmar, and ASEAN members. However, Thailand's humanitarian initiative for crisis-hit Myanmar is under scrutiny, even as ASEAN countries signal support. This controversy unfolds amidst the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Laos, which focussed on the stagnant five-point consensus with Myanmar's military, who seized power in 2021. For the first time since being excluded for inaction, a Myanmar official attended.

Amid conflict in Myawaddy Township, Northern Myanmar, particularly near Thingan Nyinaung Village on the Myanmar-Thailand border, the Royal Thai Army and border guards increased security along the border. The unrest has led to intensified patrols in five Thai townships, especially Mae Sot, to prevent any spillover. Despite concerns of potential refugees due to the proximity of combat, Thailand is not accepting refugees, according to a Mae Sot resident. Additionally, on 03 March, Thailand's parliament initiated a seminar focussed on Myanmar's political landscape, which notably included voices against Myanmar's military-led government, proceeding despite the military’s disapproval. The seminar featured prominent members of Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government and representatives from ethnic armed groups, excluding any officials from the Myanmar government.

Furthermore, on March 8, 2024, Japan announced an additional $37 million in aid to Myanmar, adding to the over $109.5 million provided since the February 2021 coup, totalling aid to approximately $146.5 million. This funding will support humanitarian efforts through international organisations like UNICEF, WFP, UNHCR, ICRC, UN Women, the AHA Centre, and various NGOs. The aid aims to improve healthcare, nutrition, water and sanitation, education access, and support for women victims of trafficking and anti-drug initiatives, benefiting people in Myanmar and Thailand. Japan also emphasised its commitment to urging the Myanmar military to allow safe humanitarian access and to continue supporting those in need. According to OCHA's December 2023 report, 18.6 million people in Myanmar, including 6 million children, require humanitarian assistance.

Finally, China's relationship with Myanmar's ruling generals has become strained following the military coup, with China refusing to fully endorse the regime despite shielding it from United Nations Security Council sanctions. The International Crisis Group report in its latest report highlighted this tension, notably through China's reaction to the Three Brotherhood Alliance's major offensive in Shan state, which borders China. Despite these developments, China has not fully backed the military, focussing instead on issues like online scam centres operating in Myanmar that involve trafficked individuals, including many Chinese nationals. China's leverage over Myanmar has increased, making it a key player in the ongoing conflict, yet it has not extended support to the National Unity Government. This situation reflects China's complex stance, balancing its dissatisfaction with the military against its geopolitical interests in Myanmar and the region.

India-Myanmar Engagements

During the month, a team from the Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC), including Chairperson Justice UB Saha (retired), visited relief camps in Manipur's Kamjong district, which borders Myanmar, and observed a new influx of 37 Myanmar nationals seeking refuge. These individuals, including women and children from Aung Zeya village in Myanmar, crossed into Manipur and were reported during the visit to the refugee camps in Sangalok (Kheroram) and Phaikoh in Kamjong Sub-Division. These camps currently shelter over 2000 refugees, predominantly from the Chin-Kuki community, with around 900 refugees at Sangalok camp and about 1200 at Phaikoh camp. Despite restrictions on refugee movement issued on March 6, 2024, local community leaders expressed the need for economic development and proposed the establishment of a trade centre to improve livelihoods in the area. The inspection team included various officials, and local MLA Leishyeo Keishing noted that approximately 5100 Myanmar nationals are currently taking shelter across different relief camps in Kamjong district.

The huge and ongoing influx of refugees has raised concerns in India, resulting in a decision to fence the border and end visa-free movement between the two countries, citing national security concerns and the aim to preserve the demographic structure of its northeastern region. During the month, India planned to invest approximately $3.7 billion to construct a fence along its 1,610-km border with Myanmar to curb smuggling and illegal activities. In March 2024, the Serchhip Battalion of Assam Rifles and local police in Mizoram arrested a Myanmar national and seized a significant cache of firearms near the India-Myanmar border in Champhai district. The cache included an M4 Assault Rifle, a German Pistol, double and single-barrel rifles, and rounds of ammunition. Additionally, India has described the situation in Myanmar's Rakhine state as "very delicate" and called for a return to "inclusive federal democracy" through dialogue and constructive engagement among stakeholders. The External Affairs Ministry has advised Indian nationals to evacuate Rakhine due to the deteriorating security situation and urged against travel there.

India has also started deporting Myanmar nationals who entered the country illegally following the 2021 military coup in Myanmar. The first batch of deportees was announced by Manipur's Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, highlighting India's humanitarian aid to those fleeing Myanmar but emphasising the necessity of systematic deportations due to the large numbers involved. The process follows legal procedures, with ongoing efforts to continue the deportations. The move to deport Myanmar nationals comes after the discontinuation of the India-Myanmar Free Movement Regime. Bangladesh is engaging in talks with Myanmar for the repatriation of 179 members of Myanmar's Border Guard Police (BGP) who entered Bangladesh illegally on 11 March 2024. The incursion occurred in two separate groups and they are currently detained at the 11 Border Guard Bangladesh Battalion in Bandarban. This event follows a previous incident where Bangladesh returned 330 Myanmar nationals, including BGP members and others, who had fled into Bangladesh due to clashes between the Myanmar junta and the Arakan Army. However, Myanmar's military has declined to accept dozens of its nationals slated for deportation by India for illegal entry.


Myanmar's descent into chaos continues and the military chief’s promise of elections remains elusive, with violence spiralling out of control. Pro-democracy protests are met with brutal force, while ethnic armed groups challenge the military's dominance. The humanitarian crisis deepens as millions flee violence and conflict. Since the military coup in February 2021, Myanmar's forces have been responsible for approximately 210 massacres, resulting in over 2,000 civilian deaths, as reported by Nyan Lynn Thit Analytica group. These actions have taken place with minimal intervention from the United Nations or the international community, prompting criticism from human rights and democracy advocates. Additionally, the military’s indiscriminate airstrikes have resulted in 936 deaths and damaged significant infrastructure, including religious buildings, schools, and hospitals. Meanwhile, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reports that 4,654 individuals have been killed by the military, with 26,228 arrested or detained. Myanmar's future remains uncertain. Therefore, there is a need to engage with all stakeholders to ensure the cessation of violence and return to normalcy.


[1] Infantry Battalion 121 located in Mai Khong Village, Mansi Township, was abandoned by regime forces, including Infantry Battalion 47, without a fight after the KIA and allies surrounded it. Intense clashes led to the seizure of the Artillery Battalion 370 in Nawng Kawn Village, Momauk Township. Over 50 troops stationed at Infantry Battalion 121's headquarters fled into the jungle. The KIA and its allies also took control of at least two other strategic outposts in Mansi Township, capturing over 40 military positions, including at least seven battalion bases in various townships since March 7.

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