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An alliance of eight armed ethnic groups in Burma known as the National Democratic Front (NDF) has said that it is preparing to defend itself if escalating tensions with the Burmese army result in civil war.
The comment comes as the Burmese government piles pressure on ethnic ceasefire groups to transform into Border Guard Forces (BGF). The country’s two main ceasefire groups, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), are resisting the demands, which could spark widespread fighting, while the New Mon State Party (NMSP) last week flatly rejected the proposal.
“NDF member groups engaged in the armed struggle will step up resistance against the [government’s] political pressure in their territories,” said NDF general secretary Mai Phone Kyaw.
The eight-member group includes the NMSP, as well as the Karen National Union (KNU), whose 60-year conflict with the Burmese government is one of the world’s longest-running.
“We will cooperate with groups in upper, central and lower Burma if ceasefire agreements [with the government] are broken in one of our areas,” said Mai Phone Kyaw. “The flames of the civil war in Burma will grow larger if [the ethnic groups] continue to be pressured to transform when their basic rights are not yet granted.”
The junta has threatened to use force against groups that refuse the transformation, a move it hopes will consolidate its support base prior to elections this year. Many of the ceasefire agreements were signed decades ago and are looking increasingly tenuous.
Mai Phone Kyaw said that if force is used, “our armed groups will launch attacks systemically across the country”.
The NSMP’s rejection has sparked an exodus of Mon refugees to a camp along the Thai-Burma border, who have fled as the Burmese army increases its presence close to NMSP territory in central Burma.