Myanmar ethnic rebel alliance asks China to help diffuse coup crisis

In this photo taken on 9 March, 2023 a member of ethnic rebel group Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) patrols near Namhsan Township in Myanmar’s northern Shan StateAFP

An alliance of China-backed Myanmar ethnic rebels on Thursday called for Beijing’s help to diffuse the bloody post-coup crisis that is ravaging the country.

China is a major ally and arms supplier of the internationally-isolated junta and has refused to call the putsch that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government two years ago.

Beijing also backs and arms several ethnic rebel groups along its border with Myanmar, analysts say, some of which have clashed repeatedly with the military in the aftermath of the coup.

The Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) groups seven ethnic outfits, who together can call on tens of thousands of well-armed and well-trained fighters, analysts say.

In this photo taken on 8 March, 2023 members of ethnic rebel group Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) take part in a training exercise at their base camp in the forest in Myanmar’s northern Shan State

“We welcome and support China’s involvement to end domestic conflicts happening in Myanmar,” the FPNCC said following the meeting in an autonomous enclave run by the United Wa State Party (UWSP).

With a standing force of around 25,000, the UWSP’s forces are one of the world’s largest non-state militaries.

The FPNCC statement did not give details on what involvement from Beijing it would welcome.

It would “continue working together with the Chinese government to improve the stability of border areas,” it added.

On-off fighting along the border before the coup sent thousands fleeing into China, and analysts say Beijing has recently been pressuring the northern ethnic rebel groups to stay out of the post-coup conflict.

But many FPNCC members have offered shelter and weapons training to the “People’s Defence Forces” (PDF) that sprung up across the country to fight back against the coup.

Last year a military airstrike on a concert held by the Kachin Independence Army in northern Kachin state killed around 50 people and wounded more than 70, the rebels said.

In this photo taken on 9 March, 2023 secretary-general of the ethnic rebel group Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Tar Bone Kyaw, is pictured as he meets pupils from another village whose school was damaged following air strikes of Myanmar’s military at Kone Tar Village, Namhsan Township in Myanmar’s northern Shan State

Several projects in Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative are slated to run through northern Myanmar and link China’s landlocked Yunnan province with the Indian Ocean.

China’s special envoy to Myanmar has met junta chief Min Aung Hlaing at least twice since he was appointed in December and has also met ethnic rebel leaders for talks.

Beijing’s diplomats are also mediating between Myanmar and Bangladesh for a pilot programme to repatriate Rohingya refugees who fled a 2017 military crackdown now subject to a UN genocide investigation.

Repatriations would start “very soon,” Beijing’s ambassador to Dhaka, Yao Wen, told reporters on Tuesday.