Six armed ethnic groups in Myanmar have forged an agreement to join forces, fearing they will be attacked by the regime after Sunday’s election, an exile news agency said Thursday.
The India-based Mizzima agency, staffed by refugees from the military-ruled nation, said the “landmark deal” was struck Tuesday in the Thai-Myanmar town of Mae Hong Son and included the most powerful ethnic armies.
The reported alliance comes amid fears that civil war could break out between the government and several ethnic groups who have denounced the elections as a means to end their decades-long struggle for autonomy under a federal system.
Western governments have criticised the election, the first in 20 years, as a ploy to perpetuate the military’s grip on power.
“The Burmese army could wage wars against ethnic groups after the election. Therefore it is essential for the ethnic groups to cooperate and help each other,” the agency quoted David Tharckabaw, vice president of the Karen National Union, as saying.
The other members of the alliance include organisations from the Karenni, Chin, Kachin, Mon and Shan minorities. Some, like the Karen, have been fighting the regime for decades, but others had signed cease-fire pacts that now appear in jeopardy.
With increasing tension, the government has canceled voting in 3,400 villages in ethnic areas and has increased its military presence in the countryside. Several of the cease-fire groups are boycotting the election.
Ethnic minorities make up some 40 percent of the country’s 56 million people and could field a formidable force together. But past attempts to unify have largely failed.
“We have no real option but to unite, politically and militarily. Now is the time to be united as one,” said Lahpai Nawdin, who heads the Kachin News Group, at a meeting of ethnic minorities last week. The group is the media arm of the Kachin Independence Organisation, which fields a potent army of some 8,000 fighters.