Myanmar's armed ethnic groups drawn into conflict

Increasing violence has led one major group to vow to defend territory, others urge junta to stop killings

YANGON: The violence perpetrated by Myanmar's junta is spreading and drawing armed ethnic groups into the conflict.

A major armed ethnic group in south-east Myanmar vowed yesterday to defend its territory from what it said were thousands of government troops advancing "from all fronts" and urged the international community and neighbour Thailand to protect its people.

In a statement, the Karen National Union, the country's oldest ethnic army, asked the international community to provide humanitarian help as its people flee fighting and to pressure the ruling military to cease using weapons on civilians.

It said the world should sever economic and military ties with Myanmar's junta.

One of the main groups behind the protests, the General Strike Committee of Nationalities, called on Monday in an open letter for ethnic minority forces to help those standing up to the military's "unfair oppression".

In a sign the call may be gaining traction, three groups - the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Arakan Army and Ta'ang National Liberation Army - urged the military to stop killing protesters and resolve political issues.

If not, they said they would cooperate with all ethnic groups "who are joining Myanmar's spring revolution".

"There is a distinct possibility of mass demonstrations cascading into civil war or inter-state war," lecturer Lee Morgenbesser at Australia's Griffith University, who researches South-east Asian politics, told Bloomberg.


Meanwhile, rubbish piled up on the streets of Yangon yesterday after activists launched a "garbage strike" to oppose military rule as the toll of pro-democracy protesters killed by the security forces since a Feb 1 coup rose to more than 500.

"This garbage strike is a strike to oppose the junta," read a poster on social media.

"Everyone can join."

Pictures posted on social media showed piles of rubbish building up in Yangon.

Myanmar's neighbours continued to voice concerns about the killings yesterday.

"Indonesia strongly denounces this kind of act. It is unacceptable," Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said, referring to the surge in violence.

The Philippines issued its strongest comment on the crisis, saying it was dismayed by the "excessive and needless" force against protesters. - REUTERS