Myanmar Round up: January 2024
Dr Cchavi Vasisht, Research Associate, VIF

Before the third anniversary of military takeover on 01 February 2024, the military extended the state of emergency beyond its constitutional limit. Domestically, Myanmar is grappling with ongoing violence, human rights violations, and attempts by the military to cement its power through gestures like preparing for elections and releasing prisoners. Peace efforts, particularly ceasefires with ethnic factions, repeatedly fail, underscoring the precariousness of any move towards stability. On the international front, ASEAN continues to advocate for peace via its Five-Point Consensus, despite facing internal disagreements on how to approach Myanmar. China emerges as a supporter of the military government, raising security concerns with incidents of cross-border shelling, while the opposition seeks to garner Chinese backing. India's relationship with Myanmar is strained by security issues, prompting considerations to fence the border and reassess the Free Movement Regime amidst worries over refugee inflows. The article below analyses the developments in Myanmar in January 2024.

Domestic and Political Situation

On 04 January 2024, Myanmar celebrated its 76th Independence Day, with multiple ceremonies at Naypyidaw City Hall and Yangon People's Park; music festivals at Yangon People's Park and at National Monument Park in Pyin Oo Lwin City, Mandalay. Authorities heightened the security at events and prominent celebration sites and transport hubs as a precaution. To commemorate Myanmar's 76th Independence Day, the State Administration Council announced the pardon of over 9,000 prisoners, which includes 9,652 individuals from Myanmar and 114 foreigners. These pardons, motivated by desires for peace and humanitarian considerations, follow a tradition of granting amnesty on significant national occasions.[1]

On 06 January, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Chairman of the State Administration Council, met officials of registered political parties. He emphasised the government's vision of conducting a free and fair election to hand over State responsibilities to the winning party. He addressed challenges posed by armed conflicts and stressed the need for political solutions, and acknowledged economic challenges and foreign currency constraints. Min Aung Hlaing highlighted the importance of party members being committed to the democratic system, contributing to peace and stability. He urged cooperation in implementing measures for national development, education, and economic growth.[2]

By the end of the month, on 31 January, the military government announced an easing of election registration rules for political parties. The military reduced the minimum membership requirement to 50,000, down from 100,000 and said parties must carry out activities in a third of townships, down from half.[3] The military regime also decided to proceed with a controversial census without international support, raising concerns among activists and the international community. The regime plans to be self-reliant, funding the census through the national budget amid a financial crisis.[4]

Since Operation 1027, the ethnic armies have been gaining ground in various regions of Myanmar. For the third time, a ceasefire facilitated by China between the military and the Three Brotherhood Alliance, fell apart within 24 hours as the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) accused the military of violating the truce with artillery attacks in northern Shan State and Mandalay Region. This breach was also confirmed by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), another member of the Alliance.[5] Additionally, the Arakan Army claimed control over Paletwa township in Chin State[6] This sequence of events underscores the fragility of peace efforts in Myanmar and the limited influence of external powers like China in achieving lasting conflict resolution. Despite the failure of the third ceasefire, China's Ambassador to Bangladesh, Yao Wen, announced efforts to initiate another ceasefire in Rakhine State, aiming to begin the Rohingya repatriation process. In discussions with Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud, Yao emphasised the importance of repatriation for a sustainable solution to the crisis and highlighted past successes in mediating ceasefires in the region.[7]

The ceasefire followed the MNDAA recapture of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone. Following which the Myanmar military handed over control of Hopang and Panlong towns in northern Shan State to the United Wa State Army (UWSA), marking a significant territorial expansion for the UWSA east of the Salween River. This transfer represents the first time in 34 years that Hopang has been under UWSA control. The acquisition came after the towns were initially seized by the Brotherhood Alliance, who then transferred them to the UWSA, allowing the UWSA to expand its territory without conflict. This strategic move strengthens the UWSA's position in the region and comes amidst their demands for official statehood, which the military has agreed to in principle.[8] The UWSA's expansion into areas previously administered by the junta, without military confrontation, highlights their considerable strength and the junta's reluctance to engage with them militarily. Furthermore, the UWSA has declared its intention to maintain a ceasefire with the Myanmar government, dismissing rumours of a planned attack on Kengtung, a key military hub in eastern Shan State.[9]

With the ongoing violence especially at the borders, many Myanmarese soldiers have crossed borders and surrendered their posts. There were reports that the military had sentenced six army generals to death or life imprisonment for surrendering a regional military headquarters in Laukkaing, Shan state, to the Three Brotherhood Alliance. However, the military government has denied reports. The BBC reported that three officers had been sentenced to death, citing various sources close to the military. According to Myanmar’s Defence Services Act, abandoning or delivering up any military post to the enemy can be punishable by death. The Three Brotherhood Alliance claimed that 2,389 military personnel, including the six brigadier generals, had surrendered, declaring the Kokang region a "Military Council-free area."[10]

The military is also sending significant reinforcements and military supplies especially through sea routes to counter the Arakan Army's (AA) offensives. The Brotherhood Alliance issued a warning about an escalation of conflict in Rakhine State. Despite heavy attacks, the AA has managed to seize military bases in the region. The AA has also targeted military naval headquarters, prompting the military to respond with bombings and shelling, causing civilian casualties and damage to homes.[11] Additionally, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) claimed to have shot down a military helicopter in Kachin state. Independent media and a spokesperson from Kachin Human Rights Watch confirmed the crash, citing fatalities among the soldiers aboard, with reports varying between six and seven dead. The incident has yet to receive any official comment from the military government, and independent verification remains challenging due to the remote location.[12]


For the first time since the military takeover in 2021, the Myanmar military government had sent a non-political bureaucrat, acting permanent secretary of its foreign ministry, to attend ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Luang Prabang, Laos.[13] Myanmar's ruling military is excluded from significant meetings of the ASEAN due to its failure to implement a peace plan agreed upon. ASEAN, maintaining its stance, allows Myanmar to send a "non-political" representative to its meetings. However, the military has previously rejected this option. The meeting was also attended by Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, where he had a meeting with Alounkeo Kittikhoun, the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar. Dr. Kao expressed the ASEAN Secretariat’s complete backing for Laos, the chair of ASEAN for the year 2024, in its efforts to effectively carry out the Five-Point Consensus. They also talked about the delivery of humanitarian aid from ASEAN to Myanmar, which is a key component of the consensus’s fourth point.[14]

Earlier, on 10 January, Myanmar's military leader, Min Aung Hlaing, met with Alounkeo Kittikhoun, the ASEAN chair's special envoy to Myanmar, as the country faces significant challenges from armed ethnic groups. The meeting aimed to discuss efforts to ensure peace and stability and took place amid ASEAN's attempts to find a diplomatic solution to Myanmar's conflict. However, ASEAN has struggled to implement a five-point peace plan or make significant progress toward resolving the conflict. Tensions within ASEAN have been highlighted by differing approaches to engaging with Myanmar's junta, leading to a split among member states. Meanwhile, the situation in northern Myanmar has worsened, with armed groups intensifying their offensive, challenging the junta's control over key areas.[15]

While ASEAN as a group is hoping for resolution of the crisis in Myanmar, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim strongly condemned the situation in Myanmar during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, describing the situation as "barbarism and depravity." The condemnation was supported by U Maung Maung, Secretary-General of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar. The crisis primarily involves the persecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, leading to severe restrictions on their freedoms and mass displacement. Malaysia's vocal opposition is part of a global effort to address the suffering in Myanmar and promote accountability for the violations, with the situation being recognized internationally as ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide.[16]

While Laos is the current chair of ASEAN, Myanmar's military-appointed Ambassador to Laos, former Major General Myat Thet Oo, was sentenced to 10 years in prison following his removal from the post by a military tribunal in Naypyitaw. Myat Thet Oo, who had a significant military career including roles as chief of the Northern Command in Kachin State and later the Southeastern Command, was appointed ambassador to Laos in 2023. The exact charges against him remain unclear, but his sentencing follows a pattern of sacking and jailing military and other officials by the junta, particularly those associated with Kachin State and alleged involvement in illegal activities such as jade mining and bribery for mining licences. Major General Ko Ko Maung, among others, faced similar fates after being accused of selling dynamite for mining and receiving bribes.[17]

China’s Interference in Myanmar

China has lodged a protest with Myanmar after artillery shells were fired during conflicts between Myanmar's military and rebel groups, and landed in Nansan, a small town near the China-Myanmar border, injuring five people. This surge in armed conflict in northern Myanmar since late October has prompted China to call for a ceasefire and facilitate dialogue between the conflicting parties. China's response includes taking necessary measures to protect its citizens and property. This is not the first time cross-border shelling has occurred; similar incidents in 2015 and 2009 resulted in injuries and a mass exodus into China, respectively. China has advised its nationals against travelling to northern Myanmar and encouraged those in the area to seek safety or return home.[18]

Furthermore, the National Unity Government (NUG) issued a 10-point policy statement emphasising its commitment to safeguarding Chinese investments and enterprises in Myanmar. Recognising China as a crucial global partner, the NUG pledged continuity with the partnership policies of the previous National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government. It vowed to protect Chinese economic interests, combat transnational crimes, and uphold previous treaties and agreements between the two countries, including China's "One China principle." This stance likely aims to secure support as the NUG continues to gain ground in regions close to the Chinese border, amidst ongoing resistance efforts against the military.[19] Despite China's controversial support for Myanmar's military regime, the NUG's statement underscores the geopolitical necessity of maintaining a constructive relationship with China.

And there have also been some indications that the US and China may be coordinating efforts in case of resolution of the crisis in Myanmar. In the last week of January, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Chinese counterpart, Director Wang Yi, engaged in over 12 hours of meetings in Bangkok. These discussions aimed to assess progress on various issues following a previous meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The meetings also covered global and regional concerns, including the conflict in Ukraine, the Middle East, North Korea, the South China Sea, Burma, and cross-Strait issues.[20]

India-Myanmar Engagements

In Manipur, six security personnel were injured during an ambush in Moreh, Tengnoupal district, raising concerns over security and prompting a review of operations. The attack involved gunfire and explosives against a joint team of state and central security forces. The injured were evacuated to Imphal for medical treatment. This incident is part of a series of attacks in the region, including another ambush that injured four commandos and an attack in Lilong, Thoubal district, where four were killed and 14 injured. The Revolutionary People’s Front claimed responsibility for the Lilong attack, stating it was an act of self-defence during an operation against a drug dealer. But the Chief Minister of Manipur, N. Biren Singh, suspects the involvement of foreign mercenaries, possibly from the Kuki National Army, Burma, in the Moreh attack. He emphasised the government's commitment to countering such terrorist activities and mentioned the possibility of reimposing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in response to these disturbances.

Amid escalating tensions and increasing displacement in Myanmar, India is moving forward with plans to fence its entire border with Myanmar and reconsider the Free Movement Regime (FMR) along the 1,643-km-long India-Myanmar border, which passes through Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh. This move comes in response to the misuse of the FMR by militants and trans-border criminals for smuggling weapons and fake Indian currency, and for escaping to Myanmar after committing crimes in India. The FMR, implemented in 2018, allows residents near the border to travel 16 km into each other's territory without a visa.[21] The decision to end the FMR is part of broader efforts to address security issues and is aligned with India's Act East Policy, aimed at enhancing trade and infrastructure, securing the northeast region, and countering illegal migration and China's influence. But Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma during his visit to Delhi held discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, highlighting the situation of Myanmarese refugees in the northeastern state. In meetings with both the Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Lalduhoma shared the concerns of the Mizo community and addressed the implications of India's current plan to fence its border with Myanmar.[22]

There have been growing concerns since Operation 1027, as till date around 700 Myanmarese soldiers have crossed borders and escaped to India after surrendering their posts to the opposition forces.[23] Also the Myanmar military plane carrying 14 passengers overshot the runway at Lengpui airport near Aizawl, Mizoram, and crash-landed into a bush. However, no deaths were reported and eight people sustained minor injuries. The aircraft, a Myanmar air force Y-8 cargo plane, was on a mission to repatriate 92 Myanmarese soldiers back to Myanmar following their crossing into India to escape clashes with an ethnic insurgent group.[24] However, after the military aircraft crash-landed in Mizoram, all 92 remaining Myanmar soldiers, along with the 14 crew members from the crashed plane, were successfully repatriated. They were airlifted by another Myanmar aircraft to Sittwe port town in Rakhine state, Myanmar. This completes the repatriation of a total of 635 Myanmarese soldiers from Mizoram to Myanmar since November of the previous year. The repatriation process included various groups being sent back at different times, with some being evacuated by Indian Air Force helicopters and others by Myanmar Air Force planes.


Myanmar is currently grappling with the consequences of military dictatorship, characterised by widespread violence, human rights violations, economic downturns, and displacement. Efforts to establish peace have been unsuccessful, and the international community's response is fragmented, with ASEAN's peace initiatives falling short and China's support of the military and ethnic armies are complicating matters for neighbours like India. The National Unity Government's stance on China, India's border security measures, and the repatriation of Myanmarese soldiers highlight the geopolitical and cross-border complexities of the crisis. There is an immediate need to initiate negotiations facilitated by neutral parties.


[5]The MNDAA ruled Kokang prior to 2009, when it was driven out by the Myanmar military, and its recapture was a major goal of Operation 1027.

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