Ethnic armed groups continue to resist joining the Border Guard Force despite mounting tension

It looks like the April-22 deadline for the Border Guard Forces (BGF) could possibly be the last chance for the ethnic ceasefire groups to transform their troops into the Burmese Army. So far, all of the main ethnic armed groups continue to refuse to join the army.

Tension between the ethnic ceasefire groups and the military has been highly palpable ahead of the deadline. The Burmese military has hinted to the armed groups that it could resort to military action if the latter fails to accept the terms of the BGF. Already fights have broken out between some of the ethnic ceasefire groups and the army. Last week, government troops exchanged gunfire with Kachin Independence Army (KIA) forces near a jade mine in Kachin state when the former encroached upon Kachin territory. A series of bomb explosions at a controversial damn in Kachin state, owned and operated by Chinese workers, is another indication of the mounting tension between the armed ethnic groups and the military (and in this case, even China).

United Wa State Army soldiers. Source: Shan State News

Along with KIA, it is likely that other major armed ethnic groups will let the deadline for BGF pass without transforming the troops into the Burmese Army. Yesterday, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the second largest and most formidable armed group in Burma, announced that it will not be joining the BGF. The UWSA has around 20,000 troops, and recent news have shown that they have started to mobilize their forces in preparation for a potential war with the Burmese Army. The Wa leadership reportedly met recently with senior officials of the military regime to negotiate on the terms of the BGF. The Wa allegedly proposed an alternative to the BGF, which the military refuse to accept.

In addition, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), also an ethnic ceasefire group, has refused to join the BGF since last year. Ahead of the latest BGF deadline, the NMSP is preparing to move to jungle bases in anticipation of renewed hostilities with the Burmese Army. Members of NMSP have stated that if the next round of talks on April 22 fall through, then war is inevitable and the local residents should prepare themselves to abandon their homes and flee to the jungle bases.

On the other side, the Burmese Army has begun mobilizing its troops in ethnic areas. Locals reported that dozens of military vehicles carrying infantry troops moved into Shan state, where the Wa troops are based. If an all-out war breaks out between the Wa and the Burmese Army, it could mean that civilians will be subjected to more human rights violations. Furthermore, the instability inside Burma could spill over into neighboring China, which could threaten the stability on the Chinese borders. In August 2009, the Burmese Army launched an offensive against the Kokang Army, a northern ally of the UWSA. The clash resulted in more than 37,000 Kokang civilians fleeing into China’s southern Yunnan Province. In a rare public statement, the Chinese government denounced the military regime for its transgression and warned against further military action that could spur instability in the region.

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