Dec 15 (Reuters) – Generals from Myanmar’s junta held peace talks in June near the border with China with leaders of three powerful ethnic armies. They sat across a wide table covered with blue cloth and decorated with elaborate flowers.
But the rebels were playing a double-game.
Secretly, the ethnic armies – collectively called the Three Brotherhood Alliance – had already laid the groundwork for Operation 1027, a major offensive started in October that has become the most significant threat to the regime since it seized power in a 2021 coup.
“We were already preparing for the operation when we met them,” said Kyaw Naing, a spokesman for the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), a largely ethnic-Chinese group that is part of the rebel alliance.
Reuters interviewed a dozen resistance officers with knowledge of the operation, as well as analysts and other people familiar with the subject. Some spoke on condition of anonymity because the offensive is continuing.
They revealed previously unreported elements of the planning, including details of the formation of a unified battlefield brigade and the extent of China’s impatience toward the junta, which some analysts think emboldened the militias.
Operation 1027, named after the date it began in late October, has provided nationwide victories for the alliance and other groups fighting the military, which unseated Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian-led government in February 2021.
Independent analysts consider those numbers reliable and the junta, which has not addressed details about battlefield defeats, has acknowledged some loss of control.
Among the rebel troops was the multi-ethnic Brigade 611, said MNDAA’s Kyaw Naing.
The formation includes troops from entities supported by the parallel civilian government as well as fighters from the AA, one of Myanmar’s most powerful ethnic armed forces, and the Bamar People’s Liberation Army (BPLA), a newer militia drawn mostly from the country’s majority Bamar people, officials from those groups confirmed.
Photos of Brigade 611 shared by an MNDAA-affiliated outlet in January show hundreds of troops in battle fatigues gathering for a graduation ceremony. Officials watched from a marquee, under a red banner with Burmese writing and Chinese characters.
Some Brigade 611 troops drilled in using drones ahead of the operation, said Lin Lin.
The closer coordination means the rebels have risen “up everywhere and the junta doesn’t have enough military forces to handle them,” said Zhu Jiangming, a security counsel at the Asian Development Bank who has written about the border situation.
Rebels helped by “foreign drone experts” used over 25,000 drone-dropped bombs during the offensive, causing some military posts to be abandoned due to “excessive strength” of resistance fighters, Min Aung Hlaing said in November.
The Three Brotherhood Alliance did not react to a request for comment on whether they used foreign experts.
Despite these setbacks, the Myanmar military – one of the biggest in Southeast Asia – has sizeable resources and a “determination to prevail at all costs,” said Richard Horsey, a senior adviser at the non-profit International Crisis Group.
Anti-junta operations have since quickly spread to other parts of Myanmar, with battles in the central region of Sagaing as well as in states near India and Bangladesh.
In several places, rebel groups are supported by the People’s Defence Forces (PDF), a movement backed by the civilian National Unity Government (NUG) that includes representatives of Suu Kyi’s administration.
The NUG claims control over parts of the country and has worked on politically isolating the junta. Suu Kyi remains in detention in the city, Naypyidaw.