Myanmar is now effectively in a state of all-out civil conflict with a deadly war of attrition between swelling rebel groups and a military fighting for its life and holding on through air power. The disruption and damage caused in Tak province this week as well as the incursion into Thailand’s air space by a Mig 19 fighter of Myanmar’s Air Force highlight the growing crisis in Thailand’s neighbouring country to the West and the challenge it may pose to authorities here if it spirals out of control. Local Thai military units in Tak were placed on high alert, last week, in response to the situation by the National Security Council. Earlier this year, in March, the US-based organisation Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) estimated that some 12,000 people in Myanmar had, at that point, died in the uprising.

Over the weekend, intensive fighting between Myanmar’s increasingly beleaguered and isolated military junta and rebel forces across Thailand’s border with Myanmar in Karen province abated somewhat after it flared up again early on Saturday morning when a bomb killed at least 3 civilians, dropped approximately 400 metres from Thailand’s border and sparking a renewed influx of refugees into the kingdom. The heavy fighting over 7 days saw an incursion by Myanmar’s air force into Thailand on Thursday morning which saw Thailand dispatch two F16 fighter jets to the Phop Phra district of Tak province and the Prime Minister General Prayut Chan ocha, on Friday, play down the incident saying an apology had been offered by the junta leadership in Nay Pyi Taw.

Last Thursday, two Royal Thai Air Force F16 fighter jets were scrambled as a Mig 19 jet from the Myanmar Air Force made a 4 km to 5 km incursion into Thai air space. This drew a calm response from Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha (left) after representations were made to the under-fire Myanmar junta. Over the weekend, early on Saturday morning, the fighting across the border from Thailand, near Tak province, flared up again but this was followed by the retreat of rebel forces from a Myanmar military stronghold which had been seized in the last week. This was the reason for the intense and ferocious aerial bombardment which saw over one thousand refugees flee into Thailand and damage to homes and property on the Thai side of the border.

The intense fighting only subsided on Saturday when rebel forces and the Karen Liberation Army withdrew from the Ugretha camp stronghold formerly held by junta forces.

They returned to their original position signalling an end to their offensive, which, according to rebel armed forces, saw 70 to 80 personnel of Myanmar’s armed forces killed in battle with many more injured or wounded.

The week-long escalated conflict on Thailand’s border with Myanmar in Tak province is reported to have eased late on Saturday after rebel forces who had taken the strategic fort and military base at Ungretha Camp withdrew under relentless pressure from air strikes on Saturday with repeated attacks from the sky by the Myanmar Air Force using a range of aircraft including Mig 19 fighters.

Three deaths reported early on Saturday when an air force bomb landed on a village area near Thailand’s border but within Myanmar near Tak province

Early on Saturday morning, three deaths and three serious injuries were reported when a missile or bomb fired by a Myanmar military jet landed on a residential area about 400 metres from the Thai border in Myanmar across the Moei River.

Reports from the area suggest that at least two of the people killed in the boiling hostilities between forces of the Karen National Union, rebel forces and the Myanmar military were dual Thai Myanmar nationals who were carrying Thai identification cards which is a normal occurrence among people and hill tribes living near the Thai Myanmar border with a large proportion of the population being extended families occupying both sides of the territorial divide.

The forces pitted against the Myanmar military in last week’s fierce fighting, involving the use of heavy weapons, are reported to have been units of the Karen National Liberation Army, the army of the Karen National Union supported by units linked with the People’s Defence Armed Forces (PDF) or the armed forces of Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) which is gaining increased recognition and legitimacy.

National Unity Government (NUG) claims to be the legitimate voice and ruling body of Myanmar due to the 2020 election which sparked the 2021 coup

This government claims its legitimacy by being made up of elected representatives according to the November 2020 General Election in Myanmar which triggered the military coup on the 1st February 2021 after the National League for Democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi won the election decisively in a landslide result amid claims by the military of electoral fraud.

Last week, at the height of hostilities near Tak province in north-western Thailand bordering Myanmar’s Kayin or Karen State, it is understood that over one thousand refugees temporarily crossed the Moei River seeking shelter in Thailand from the heavy fighting.

The refugees were provided with shelter and sleeping facilities by Thai authorities in what National Security Council Secretary-general, Supot Malaniyom, told reporters was an ongoing operation since the conflict in Myanmar intensified into an all-out civil war over the last 17 months.

On Sunday, it was thought that over 550 of the refugees remained in Thailand.

Royal Thai Air Force confirmed incursion by Myanmar’s air force into Thai air space on Thursday at 11.16 am sparking a response by F16 fighters

The flare-up across Thailand’s border with Myanmar in Tak province made national news in Thailand on Thursday when the Royal Thai Air Force confirmed that a Myanmar Air Force Mig 19 fighter jet had crossed into Thailand’s airspace in Phop Phra district for up to 5km as the jet made a circular manoeuvre.

It was involved in an ongoing attack on rebel forces across Thailand’s border which saw Mig 19 fighter jets and helicopter gunships launch fierce attacks on opposition forces on an hourly basis.

At 11.16 am on Thursday, the Thai Air Force deployed two F16 fighter jets to patrol the skies in Tak province in response to the incursion by the Myanmar Air Force while Thailand’s military attaché in Yangon was also called upon to make a representation to the junta authorities.

Thai man’s pickup damaged by shrapnel while fallout also hit plantations and damaged local buildings

During the week’s hostilities, it is reported that shrapnel from missiles and bombs flew across the border damaging property on the Thai side including a motor vehicle, a pickup truck belonging to one Thai national identified as Mr Sayan Wongjai who lives in the Mae Sot district of Tak province.

Shrapnel also regularly crossed the border last week hitting Thai buildings and causing damage but fortunately, no one was hurt or killed.

At the same time, the intensity of the aerial bombardment and explosions from the Myanmar side of the border caused Thai residents considerable unease and fear for 7 days as Myanmar’s military unleashed aerial attacks not only from its Mig fighter jets and helicopter gunships but also using bomber drones.

The fallout from the attacks also fell on plantations in Tak province.

Local schools in Tak shut due to proximity and disruption caused by air attacks just across the border

During the week, schools in several villages in the Phop Phra district including Muen Ruechai, Ban Marker Tai, Ban Waolay Nua, Huai Mae Mai and Valley villages had to cease operations as the Myanmar junta’s staged is military operation including jets flying low in the sky overhead causing alarm among the general population close to the border where the fighting was ongoing.

Thai authorities, in recent days in Tak province, were reportedly instigating and coordinating efforts on the ground to help local property owners and farmers make repairs and recover from the week-long conflict.

On Friday morning, while attending a seminar organised by the Thai Ministry of Education, the Thai Prime Minister addressed media reports of the incursion by Myanmar’s armed forces which was widely covered by local Thai media.

Prime Minister, on Friday, heralded an accepted apology offered by the military junta, stressed Thailand’s capability to defend its sovereignty

General Prayut confirmed that the Royal Thai Air Force had responded to the incident in the Phop Phra district of Tak province and that diplomatic representations had been made relating to it.

He said Myanmar’s military had offered an apology for the incursion.

‘This may be viewed as a big issue, but it depends on us whether we want to make it bigger or not. Now, the two countries enjoy a good relationship. When anything happens, we raise it for discussion,’ he said. ‘More importantly, Thailand has the capacity to defend its territorial sovereignty. In the future, we have to see how strong and modern we are. This is not a big deal.’

Air force seeks eight F35 fighter jets at a time when Thailand’s defence budget finds itself at a low ebb
US Defence Chief asserts Thailand’s position as a key military ally in a tense Indo-Pacific region

Thailand’s air force has recently sought to purchase 8 state-of-the-art F35 fighter jets from the United States for somewhere between $560 million and $648 million or up to ฿21.51 billion, in a move which has been approved by the cabinet and has seen the Prime Minister engage in discussions with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, both in Washington DC during the ASEAN US Summit in May and the recent official visit by US Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, to Bangkok in June when Mr Austin made it clear that the United States and Thailand are military allies with the United States working to modernise and equip the Thai military as part of that alliance.

National Security Council closely monitoring the Myanmar conflict while Thai forces are on high alert 

On Friday, National Security Council chief General Supot Malaniyom told reporters that Thai security services were closely monitoring the conflict across the border from Tak province which had yet to subside at that point.

He said that Thai army ground forces and local units were also on high alert as well as the Royal Thai Air Force.

General Supot stressed that the conflict acoss Thailand’s border was an internal matter for Myanmar and did not involve Thailand as an actor nor was there an issue between the two countries

‘The Royal Thai Air Force clearly explained the circumstances and details connected with the latest incident that happened on June 30, but what we must give more emphasis is that all military units have to be on extra alert,’ he revealed. ‘However, the armed conflict does not involve Thailand and Myanmar, but this is Myanmar’s internal affairs that affect Thailand. We must raise the issue by following proper procedures at all levels, and we have already done it.’

This latest Burmese junta is fighting a losing war with both desertion and defections from its ranks

The worsening civil war in Myanmar is stretching the resources of the feared Burmese military, the Tatmadaw, with unprecedented reports of desertion and defections from the ranks of the once formidable fighting force.

The same is said to be true for police forces in Myanmar which have lost the trust and confidence of the public.

The Burmese military ruled the country with an iron fist from 1962 until 2011 when engagement between the junta and the forces of democracy within the country led to a historical 2015 General Election which saw the National League for Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi effectively take power in an arrangement with the army.

Unity Government claims to be the legitimate authority in Myanmar based on the last election poll before the military quashed the democratic process

There are credible reports that the military is having difficulty fielding forces in sufficient numbers to win the ongoing war of attrition between it and the less organised and poorly equipped forces of the National Unity Government (NUG), the People’s Defence Armed Forces (PDF) and hardened ethnic militias with whom it has been fighting for decades.

Bloody civil war has erupted with massive loss of life which both sides cannot ultimately win outright

In an unprecedented situation in Myanmar, the democratic forces leading the opposition to the junta including volunteers and recruits from mainstream society such as young people, and the rebel forces from both rural and urban areas have formed an alliance and understanding with the ethnic groups across traditional boundaries and allegiances, to fight a protracted civil war which experts increasingly say cannot be won outright by either side, at this point.

The war has seen many thousands die on both sides not only in violent street protests but in an ongoing and incredibly intensive guerrilla war between the junta’s overstretched forces and the forces aligned with the National Unity Government (NUG).

One estimate from Reuters, up to February 1st 2022, one year after the coup, suggests that at least 1,500 people have been killed in protest clashes between the public and armed forces on the streets alone with agencies monitoring the conflict suggesting that up to that point, the number killed between casualties within the junta’s military and security forces, a plethora of rebel armed forces making up the People’s Defence Armed Forces (PDF) and ethnic armed forces, may come to over 12,000 people.

This was the estimated number of deaths arrived at by the American organisation Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) which compiled its data from an array of sources including media reports and input from human rights organisations still active in Myanmar.

Fiercest fighting in Karen state since World War Two

The Reuters report confirmed that up to February 1st 2022, the anniversary of the coup which installed the junta in an early morning operation, 8,792 people were still being held by the military including the country’s de facto elected ruler, Aung San Suu Kyi, with 11,787 people summarily detained over just one year.

A veteran US humanitarian organisation director and former military officer, Dave Eubank, said in March that the fighting in Kayah State also known by the endonyms Karen State or Karenni State with a population of 5 million people, was the worst seen in Myanmar since World War Two.  

Junta regime isolated as an international pariah with only tacit support from China, Russia and Thailand

The civil war has left the Burmese military increasingly isolated internationally even within the ASEAN community.

Thailand remains one of a handful of countries that is seen as on friendly terms with the junta led by General Min Aung Hlaing.

Russian military vehicles unloaded in Yangon in January, Myanmar uses Russian aircraft, firepower

Myanmar’s junta is particularly dependent on China for economic support while China, Pakistan and Russia are understood to be helping to equip the increasingly strained Tatmadaw with weaponry with the junta reliant on its air force and dominant air power as we saw last week to defend its position and fight off the growing threat from rebel forces and their ethnic militia allies.

China, which sees Myanmar as a strategically important country in its push to expand its regional influence and power, has stood by the junta government yet it has also reached out to the National League for Democracy and the National Unity Government (NUG) despite robust rising anti-Chinese feeling among the rebel forces and population at large.

Visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday

On Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Myanmar for the first time since the coup on the occasion of the birthday of military strongman General Min Aung Hlaing but, at the same time, in a position quite like that taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok, urged dialogue between the warring parties at a time when the international community and even many elements within ASEAN are shunning the junta government and demanding an immediate return to democratic rule and reversals of the February 2021 coup.

This weak position is thought to be behind the shocking announcement by the junta in early June that it would execute by hanging four people convicted by military tribunals including a former elected legislator and MP for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party and a prominent activist campaigning for democracy in due course after all available legal appeals were exhausted under curet emergency provisions.

Sign that junta may be preparing to get tough as it threatens to hang four convicted over the uprising

In a chilling announcement, which could be a prelude to a campaign of all-out terror on both sides of the raging civil war, a spokesman for the junta, Zaw Min Tun said that four convicted men ‘were sentenced to death will be hanged according to prison procedures’.

‘They continued the legal process of appealing and sending a request letter for the amendment of the sentence,’ Mr Zaw Min Tun told reporters at the beginning of June. ‘But the court rejected their appeal and request. There is no other step after that.’ 

He then confirmed that two of the four condemned men were sentenced to death for killing a woman who they suspected of being an informant for the junta.

‘Two other men, who were convicted and sentenced to death for killing a woman they alleged was an informer for the junta in Yangon, will also be executed,’ the spokesman said.

Hip hop artiste turned MP among those condemned by a military tribunal over train attack that killed 5

One of the two political figures sentenced to death is former hip hop artiste Phyo Zeya Thaw who, after years of being a thorn in the side of the former junta up to 2015, having been jailed in 2008 for membership of an illegal organisation, was elected as an MP for the National League for Democracy in 2015 when civilian and democratic rule returned to Myanmar.

He was arrested by the new junta in November 2021 and accused of several attacks on military forces including an attack on a commuter train in Yangon in August 2021 which saw 5 policemen gunned down by rebel forces.

The other political figure is Kyaw Min Yu, a democracy activist known as ‘Jimmy’ who was condemned by a military tribunal for his actions in support of the uprising against the junta government.

Civil rights groups, international bodies alarmed at the announcement in early June by a junta spokesman

The announcement has caused alarm among human rights groups and United Nations officials working with groups in Myanmar particularly as there are dozens of others who have already been condemned by the increasingly desperate and illegitimate military government which is isolated in Nay Pyi Taw, the country’s official but artificial capital which enjoys very little and dwindling public support.

The announcement in June that the men were to be hanged, an act that would be the first execution in Myanmar since 1990, drew a strong and outraged response from the Secretary-general of the United Nations António Guterres.

His spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, described the announcement and sentences imposed as ‘a blatant violation to the right to life, liberty and security of person.’

‘The Secretary-General considers that the death penalty cannot be reconciled with full respect for the right to life,’ Mr Dujarric announced to the media. ‘Abolition is necessary and desirable for the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights.’

Amnesty International also castigated the sentences and the statement by the junta while Mr Phil Roberstson, a Deputy Director at Human Rights Watch had a strong warning for General Min Aung Hlaing and his regime.

He said the ‘move towards executing two prominent political leaders will be like pouring gasoline on the fire of popular anti-military resistance in the country. Such a move will also lead to global condemnation and cement the junta’s reputation as among the worst of the worst human rights abusers in Asia.’

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Further reading:

A second war raging in Myanmar unlike anything seen since World War Two with over 12,000 dead

Thailand calls for Myanmar talks as besieged coup leader is barred from the ASEAN summit in Brunei

Thailand abstains as the UN calls for Myanmar’s return to democracy and a junta arms embargo to quell conflict

FM Don to attend Myanmar ASEAN summit with high stakes for Thailand as civil war there looms large

Myanmar facing all out revolution as the bloody struggle between the army and the public spirals out of control

Crisis in Myanmar threatens to escalate as Thai authorities monitor the situation on a daily basis

Threat to Thailand from the encroaching dragon of the North as Chinese factories in Myanmar burn

Coup boss writes to Prayut for support as UK man with Chinese partner flees troubled Myanmar

Small bomb devices explode outside the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok as anti-coup protests grow in Yangon

Australian arrested in Myanmar as coup takes on significance for US Chinese rivalry in the region

Military coup in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi held with scores of leading political figures arrested by troops

Myanmar closer to civil war as ‘unity’ government announces first step to a ‘Federal Union Army’ to fight junta