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

May 2024 witnessed a surge in violence across Myanmar. Ethnic armed groups clashed with the military in various states, including Kachin, Shan, Rakhine, and Chin, displacing over 3 million people, a 50% increase in just six months. The military responded with increased airstrikes and drone attacks, raising civilian casualties. International efforts to resolve the crisis gained little traction, with ASEAN mediation attempts yielding limited progress. Meanwhile, India continued diplomatic engagement with the Myanmar military and raised concerns amidst criticism of air attacks on civilians. The border with India also saw clashes between insurgent groups and the military, with refugees fleeing in both directions. With the humanitarian crisis worsening, the UN estimates 18.6 million people now require assistance, highlighting the urgent need for action.

Domestic and Political Issues

The country has been embroiled in violent conflicts between the military and various ethnic armed groups. In Kachin State, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and its allies have escalated attacks on junta forces in Momauk and Mansi townships. The KIA seized a police station in Momauk, forcing junta troops to withdraw, although key military installations, such as Light Infantry Battalion 437 and two artillery battalions, remain under junta control. The KIA aims to isolate military troops in Bhamo township, thereby expanding the buffer zone around its headquarters in Laiza. Despite not fully capturing Momauk and Mansi, the KIA has occupied several towns and over 80 junta positions since attacks began on March 7.

Simultaneously, tensions have flared between Myanmar's military and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). The TNLA accused the military of violating a China-brokered ceasefire by shelling a TNLA outpost on May 4, and threatened retaliation if attacks continue. In Chin State, anti-regime forces, including the Chin National Army (CNA), have faced military resistance in Tonzang and Cikha townships. But after days of fighting, the CNA, along with other resistance groups, captured Tonzang and Cikha and seized weapons and ammunition from defeated military troops. In Rakhine State, the Arakan Army (AA) captured Buthidaung town, significantly weakening military control in the region. Following the capture of Buthidaung, the AA launched an attack on Maungdaw town, targeting border guard police headquarters and surrounding the town from multiple directions. Capturing Maungdaw would leave the military with control over only one town in northern Rakhine and secure the border with Bangladesh for the AA. However, the AA's advance has led to accusations of targeting Rohingya Muslims, with reports of forced displacement and homes being set on fire, although the AA denies these claims.

As a result of the renewed violence in Rakhine state, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, Nicholas Koumjian, has expressed deep concern. Clashes between the military and the AA since November 2023 have led to hundreds of casualties and the displacement of over 300,000 people, mainly Rohingya. The Commissioner called for a cessation of hostilities, civilian protection, humanitarian access, and adherence to international law by both the military and the AA. He also urged Bangladesh to protect vulnerable individuals seeking safety.

Also foreign fighters have begun joining anti-regime forces, bringing combat experience and tactical knowledge. Although only about a dozen have joined, they aim to enhance resistance capabilities. Fighters like Jason, a British veteran, and Azad, a U.S. national, offer skills in urban warfare and sniper training. But despite their involvement, analysts believe foreign fighters are unlikely to have a significant impact on Myanmar's broader battlefield dynamics. Even their presence could become problematic if their numbers increase and they form combat units, potentially raising geopolitical concerns. It must also be noted that the MNDAA faces accusations of forcibly recruiting migrant workers, including ethnic Kachin, Shan, Ta'ang, Rakhine, and Karenni, to fight on the front lines. Reports allege that around 1,000 workers have been conscripted. But the MNDAA has not commented on these allegations.

The military on the other hand responded with increased airstrikes and drone attacks. In the Magwe Region, two devastating airstrikes by the junta resulted in significant civilian casualties. An attack on a Buddhist monastery on May 9 killed at least 16 people and injured around 50, while another airstrike on May 14 in Saw Township killed seven civilians, including children. These incidents are part of a broader pattern of aerial assaults on civilian targets since the coup. In Karenni (Kayah) State, the military attacked Loikaw, the capital, which is largely controlled by Karenni anti-regime forces. In Sagaing Region, Pyu Saw Htee militias allied with the military abducted 23 villagers, torturing and killing four of them, while releasing the rest after receiving ransoms.

Additionally, the military is increasingly using advanced Chinese drones in its tactics, utilising models such as the CH-2 and CH-4 for precise targeting and increased damage potential. With the military facing challenges in maintaining its air force, including shortages of spare parts and aircraft crashes, it's turning to armed drones to bolster its air power. Even the rebel forces have adopted drones as a cost-effective countermeasure against airstrikes and artillery. This technological shift has resulted in casualties among both anti-junta forces and civilians, raising concerns about escalating violence as drone warfare intensifies. During the month, the military also launched Operation Aung Zeya, aimed to regain territory from the KNU forces in Myawaddy Township.

Furthermore, Min Aung Hlaing has reshuffled military commanders. Major-General Soe Min, previously Coastal Region Commander, now leads Naypyitaw Command, reflecting his loyalty despite military defeats. Brigadier-General Pyae Sone Lin, trusted by Min Aung Hlaing, now heads Coastal Region Command. Additionally, Major-General Win Lwin was dismissed for embezzlement, and Major-General Ko Lay was appointed deputy defence minister amid online scam allegations. It must be noted that frequent commander rotations have marked the military since the 2021 coup.

The military also introduced a requirement for individuals crossing the border to obtain a UID (Unique Identity) card. The process has faced significant challenges, with long lines and limited distribution causing delays and frustration. Migrant workers fear job loss due to slow UID distribution, and heightened border restrictions target young people amid a new conscription law. This policy aims to tighten control and crack down on draft-dodgers, alongside suspending permits for conscription-age men seeking jobs abroad.

International Developments

The United Nations have appointed Julie Bishop, Australia’s former foreign minister, as the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy on Myanmar. She faces the challenging task of addressing the country's ongoing crisis. To avoid repeating previous diplomatic failures, Bishop is advised to adopt a nuanced approach that considers the complexities of Myanmar's civil war and ethnic dynamics. Instead of focusing solely on high-level negotiations between the junta and the broad resistance, she should concentrate on subnational conflicts and ethnic relationships within the federal democracy movement.

On May 29, the UN Security Council (UNSC) held a meeting on Myanmar, attended by representatives from all 15 UNSC member states and 10 ASEAN countries. Most participants expressed concern over the escalating conflict, stressing the need to end violence and ensure humanitarian assistance. At a previous UNSC meeting, Myanmar's Permanent Representative to the UN, Kyaw Moe Tun, expressed disappointment over the Council's inaction. He highlighted the escalating conflicts and violence against civilians, and the lack of accountability mechanisms which is enabling the military to continue atrocities. He urged the UNSC to refer the Myanmar issue to the International Criminal Court and implement effective resolutions to address the ongoing crisis.

At the 36th annual ASEAN-US Dialogue in Washington, the US urged Myanmar’s military to cease violence and release unjustly detained individuals. US Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to coordinate closely with ASEAN to support Myanmar. Additionally, the UK Ambassador James Kariuki highlighted that more than 18 million people require humanitarian assistance, up from 17.6 million last year. The coup and repression have disrupted routine vaccinations and increased food insecurity, risking widespread childhood malnutrition. The UK has provided nutrition and livelihood support to 1.8 million people but stresses the need for more international aid.

While facing sanctions from western nations, Myanmar's military government has chosen to engage with Russia for the development of the Dawei deep-sea port, a move that has upset China. The Myanmar military government seeks Russian investment for the port and a special economic zone, including an oil refinery. Additionally, Min Aung Hlaing aims to develop Myanmar's aerospace industry through cooperation with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. This collaboration includes sending Myanmar students to study in Russia and receiving Russian assistance in human resources development. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena met with Myanmar's Charge d’ Affairs Lei Yi Win to discuss enhancing trade, economic, and Buddhist ties. Barter trade on tea and coconut was suggested, and Myanmar invited Sri Lanka to participate in the Yangon Trade Fair. Both countries will commemorate 75 years of diplomatic relations and Myanmar's 1,000 years of Theravada Buddhism establishment.

Furthermore, Bangladesh Ambassador to Myanmar Md. Monwar Hossain met with Myanmar’s Admiral Moe Aung in Naypyitaw to discuss border security amid the military's loss of control in northwestern Rakhine State. The AA has seized Buthidaung and attempted to take over Maungdaw, forcing locals and Rohingya to flee. In addition, over 600 junta police and residents have fled to Bangladesh. Bangladesh's Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal announced strict measures to prevent entry from Myanmar amid ongoing conflicts and emphasised security in Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar. Law enforcement agencies will conduct joint patrols and repair barbed wire fences to control Rohingya movements and address criminal activities within the camps.

Finally, to discuss the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, Senior Japanese envoy Masahiro Komura met with representatives from Myanmar's ethnic armed organisations, including the KNU and KNPP. Komura expressed Japan's willingness to engage in talks and support for ASEAN's diplomatic efforts. Japan has urged Myanmar's regime to cease violence, release political detainees, and provided over US$109 million in humanitarian aid since the 2021 coup. Meanwhile, Japan has provided aid, the HRW has accused Japanese company Yokogawa Bridge Corp. which continues to make payments to the military-owned MEC for a project, totalling around US$2 million. MEC has been sanctioned for funding military abuses, and Prime Minister Kishida faces calls to halt these payments and impose sanctions on Myanmar's military leaders and affiliated companies.

ASEAN’s Efforts

On May 7, former Cambodian leader Hun Sen requested a video meeting with Min Aung Hlaing, to discuss the situation of Aung San Suu Kyi. Serving a 27-year sentence, Suu Kyi has been largely isolated since the coup. Hun Sen aimed to arrange a meeting between himself and Suu Kyi, marking a significant diplomatic effort. But the military has consistently declined similar requests from foreign leaders, including those from ASEAN. And even this time The military rejected Hun Sen's request, maintaining its stance of limiting Suu Kyi's interactions.

On May 15, Myanmar's military chief engaged in talks with top ASEAN officials about Myanmar's potential reintegration into the Southeast Asian bloc, from which it has been excluded since the 2021 coup. The discussions in Naypyidaw covered Myanmar's cooperation within ASEAN, its participation in future meetings, and a proposal for new elections. ASEAN's mediation attempts have yielded little success, leading to divisions within the bloc. On the other hand, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been involved in discreet meetings with Myanmar opposition groups and ethnic revolutionary organisations (EROs) to discuss potential solutions to the ongoing civil war. Despite Thaksin's efforts, the Myanmar military has remained silent, causing unease among some EROs. But Thaksin's past ties to Myanmar's military leader Min Aung Hlaing and his business interests in Myanmar complicate his role as a mediator. His involvement has raised concerns in Thailand, with calls for clarity on his unofficial role. Thaksin's mediation efforts are viewed with scepticism, given his history and potential personal interests.

Thailand has launched a biometric data collection program in five provinces to improve health services for Myanmar nationals and stateless individuals. The initiative, conducted in partnership with various organisations, aims to streamline vaccine allocation for diseases like HPV and COVID-19. The project involves collecting facial and iris scans alongside personal data from 10,000 people, with plans to expand to a million profiles. Although praised for enhancing migrant identification, activists have raised privacy concerns. Also since February, Thai authorities have arrested over 900 Myanmar individuals for illegal entry along the Thai-Myanmar border, with many youths fleeing the military’s newly enforced conscription law. The Foundation for Education and Development (FED) reported 918 arrests from February 15 to May 27, with most avoiding conscription. Finally, the Thai National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) announced the termination of online communication services to Shwe Kukko in Myawady District, Myanmar, due to their use by online fraud syndicates. The NBTC ordered the termination of 69 internet cable lines within 15 days. Despite previous cutoffs, fraud activities persisted, facilitated by connections from Thailand.

India-Myanmar Engagements

On May 1, Indian Ambassador Abhay Thakur engaged in talks with Myanmar's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Than Swe in Naypyidaw, to discuss bilateral relations. Thakur also presented his credentials and the subsequent meetings with Myanmar's officials underscored India's commitment to enhancing bilateral relations. In addition, Myanmar Air Force Chief Tun Aung and Indian Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Intelligence) Air Vice Marshal Ichettira Iyappa Kuttappa met in Naypyitaw, to discuss military cooperation, including sending junta trainees to India and enhancing ties between the two air forces. However, amidst these diplomatic efforts, India's support for Myanmar's military regime drew criticism, especially in light of increased air attacks on civilians.

The violence along the Indo-Myanmar border highlighted the security challenges posed by insurgent groups and illegal migration. An intense gun battle has erupted near Myo Thit, Myanmar, along the Indo-Myanmar border, involving insurgent groups from Northeast India and Myanmar's rebel factions, the PDF and KNF(B). The clash, which began around May 7 and 8, continued, resulting in casualties on both sides, including one PDF cadre and one KNF(B) cadre killed, with several others injured. The People's Liberation Army (PLA), a Meitei insurgent group, is reportedly involved from the Indian side. The PDF and KNF(B) initiated the attack on a joint camp of Northeast insurgent groups, leading to intense firing with RPGs and bombs. The Myanmar Army responded with airstrikes, prompting the evacuation of Northeast insurgent group cadres to safer locations.

The conflict has resulted in movement of refugees across borders. In response to the refugee crisis, Myanmar's National Unity Government issued guidelines to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens seeking refuge in India, reflecting a commitment to maintaining positive bilateral relations while respecting India's sovereignty and laws. It also called for avoiding involvement in Indian politics, elections, or local conflicts and to refrain from illegal activities like drug trafficking. They called the Myanmar citizens to cooperate with Indian authorities and NGOs for emergencies and border stability and seek help from civil society and philanthropic organisations when needed. The guidelines reiterated the need to respect local communities, their religion, and social norms. Additionally, the plight of Indians held captive in Myawaddy exposed the vulnerability of individuals to exploitation by transnational criminal networks. Efforts by the Indian government and the Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) to combat organised cybercrime underscored the need for transnational cooperation in addressing modern security challenges. The Ministry of Home Affairs has also established an inter-ministerial committee to address the issue.

On the other hand, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh highlighted the threat posed by illegal migrants from Myanmar to the state's security and indigenous population. He noted a significant increase in villages due to this influx, along with deforestation and encroachment on resources. A cabinet sub-committee, led by Tribal Affairs Minister Letpao Haokip, detected thousands of illegal immigrants, with biometric data collected for over 5,000 individuals. Some migrants have voluntarily returned to Myanmar, but recent bombings by the Myanmar army have caused hesitation. The Chief Minister affirmed deportation plans once the situation improves, criticising the International Committee of Jurists for opposing deportation and emphasising national security concerns. Around 7,937 Myanmar nationals sought refuge in Manipur since the 2021 military coup, while approximately 34,350 others fled to Mizoram.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma announced plans to collect biometric data from Myanmar refugees in the state, with a biometric enrolment portal already set up for this purpose. This initiative aligns with advice from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The state government is also considering implementing an online tracking system for the inner line permit (ILP) to monitor unauthorised presence or misuse. Additionally, discussions were held about combating drug abuse, and efforts to implement the Mizoram Maintenance of Household Registration Bill, 2019, aimed at addressing the long-standing issue of foreign influx through porous borders.

However, the decision to fortify the Indo-Myanmar border with fences resulted in among ethnic Zo tribes, raising questions about the impact of border fortifications on community cohesion and regional security. Mizoram's opposition to fencing underscored the delicate balance between security needs and ethnic realities, emphasising the importance of dialogue and cooperation in addressing border-related challenges. During the month, Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma discussed these matters with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, urging them not to seal the Mizoram section of the border or scrap the existing FMR.

Finally, the National Investigation Agency's (NIA) probe into Northeast-related weapons smuggling uncovered the use of hawala channels, highlighting the transnational nature of security threats in the region. The arrest of Solomona and the seizure of arms and ammunition emphasised the need for robust cooperation between India and Myanmar to combat such illicit activities. This is the second arrest in the case, which involves charges under the IPC, the Explosive Substances Act, and the Arms Act. Investigations also revealed the use of hawala channels for transferring payments. Furthermore, successful operations by security forces to thwart drug trafficking highlighted the importance of proactive measures in combating transnational organised crime. In a joint operation at the Indo-Myanmar border town of Zokhawthar in Mizoram's Champhai district, the 42 Battalion of Assam Rifles and local police seized 3.105 kilograms of Crystal Methamphetamine, valued at Rs 9.315 crore. Security forces in Longding district of Arunachal Pradesh seized 1.757 kg of opium from the home of NSCN-KYA member Azen Wangsu. The operation was conducted jointly by Military Intelligence ECIB and personnel from 24 Assam Rifles following specific intelligence. Eleven individuals, including nine from Myanmar, were apprehended during the operation.


More than 3 million people in Myanmar have been displaced due to escalating conflict, marking a bleak milestone, according to the United Nations. The ongoing conflict has pushed Myanmar into a deepening humanitarian crisis, with approximately 18.6 million people now requiring humanitarian assistance, an increase of 1 million from the previous year. This ongoing crisis is looming into a regional problem and the ASEAN leaders along with regional players like India and China must play a pragmatic role. Furthermore, the crisis within the country can be resolved by an inclusive dialogue involving all stakeholders.

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