The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


The Politics of Protection – Evaluating recent clashes along Thailand – Myanmar border

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on April 28, 2011
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Recent reports in the media have discussed the National Security Council of Thailand moves to close the ‘displaced persons’ camps along the Thailand – Myanmar border. There are currently 143,097 people verified as living within these camps who have fled over the past twenty-five years. They fled across the border because of continued clashes between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar armed forces) and different ethnic nationalities armies. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s fragile ceasefire agreements were made between some ethnic nationalities and the Tatmadaw. These agreements led to a period of lesser violence up until the preparations for the Myanmar 2010 National Elections. In the run up to the 7th November poll, there was increased tension between the ethnic nationalities and the Tatmadaw because part of the ceasefire agreement was the eventual integration of ethnic nationalities’ armed forces into the Tatmadaw following national elections. However, as preparations for the elections continued, areas under control of the ethnic nationalities were declared unsafe for the polls to be conducted. As a result of these two significant and interrelated developments, the ceasefire agreements began to breakdown and, in turn, violence in the ethnic nationality areas increased.

The day after the elections took place, an estimated 10,000 people fled across the border from Myawaddy into Thailand. This mass movement was motivated by the violent clashes that broke out between the Tatmadaw and a group of Democratic Karen Buddhist Army defectors known as Brigade 5. The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army is an ethnic nationality armed group allied with the Tatmadaw – itself a breakaway faction of the Karen Liberation Army, which has had a ceasefire agreement with the Tatmadaw since 1994. After days of fighting, the Tatmadaw reclaimed Myawaddy from Brigade 5 and the vast majority of those who fled across the border returned to Myanmar. While this was a large scale outbreak of violence, low level violent clashes continue between various ethnic nationalities and the Tatmadaw. Indeed, this event demonstrates the unstable nature of the situation in the ethnic nationality areas as does the ongoing, albeit it significantly smaller and undocumented, number of people fleeing across the porous border. From my recent field work, many I spoke to from the ethnic nationality areas indicate that the Tatmadaw have revised tactics and have returned to the Four Cuts Strategy towards the ethnic nationalities – a plan designed to cut off four essential components: food, money, information and recruits. In addition to the return to this strategy, there are also reports of landmines being laid across the conflict zones. With a breakdown of various peace agreements and an increase in violence in the ethnic nationality areas, these areas are not fit to be deemed safe and stable. As a result, while the displaced persons want to return and Thai authorities want them to return, it is too early to suggest that voluntary repatriation will take place in the near future, no matter the outcome of the Myanmar 2010 election.

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