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How Myanmar’s Coup Has Reshaped Its Ethnic Conflicts

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By every metric – from human casualties and conflict-induced displacement of civilians to poverty levels and job losses – Myanmar’s February 2021 military power grab has been a disaster of epic proportions, with the situation worsening by the day.

The military takeover also killed off Myanmar’s decade-old peace process, dealing a final blow to negotiations that were already moribund, largely due to the unwillingness of the military and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government to make meaningful concessions to the country’s many ethnic armed groups.

Amid the tragedy unfolding in Myanmar, a new dialogue has emerged: potentially transformative negotiations towards a genuinely federal state between political leaders from the majority Bamar and ethnic minorities, including several of the country’s most important ethnic armed groups.

In the immediate aftermath of the coup, most ethnic leaders believed this was not their fight. Despite their enmity with the military, they were disillusioned after years of failed peace talks, and in no mood to help put Aung San Suu Kyi back in power.

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But the popular uprising against military rule, fueled by the regime’s violence against peaceful demonstrators, quickly shifted the equation. Outraged, ethnic communities – many of which voted for the NLD – joined the mass protests, compelling some ethnic armed groups to take a stand. Remaining neutral would have put their credibility at risk with their constituencies, and they risked being eclipsed by newly formed militias taking on the military.

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