Rebel politics after the coup: Myanmar’s Ethnic Armed Organizations and their social foundations
David Brenner

In February 2021, Myanmar’s generals ended their own experiment with electoral democracy and staged a coup against the re-elected civilian government. Since then, violence has engulfed a country that is already home to the world’s longest ongoing civil war between ethnonational rebel movements – known as Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) – and the military of an ethnocratic state – the Tatmadaw. As the conflict is largely confined to the country’s far-flung peripheries, observers and policymakers alike have often relegated it to a second order priority. In the wake of the coup, however, EAOs have come into the spotlight in Myanmar politics.

Some observers have even declared EAOs to be the ‘real kingmakers’ of this crisis as both the military and the civilian resistance movement – as represented by the National Unity Government (NUG) – are vying for EAO support. The positioning of EAOs themselves, however, is far from clear. Some are supporting popular resistance to military rule and allied themselves with the NUG. Most importantly, the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) have both stepped up their military engagement with the Tatmadaw, and both shelter revolutionaries from central Myanmar, and provide guerrilla training for young activists fleeing from the cities. Other EAOs, such as the Arakan Army (AA), seem to be hedging their bets and retaining strategic ambiguity towards recent developments. Still others, such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA), have affirmed their pragmatic ceasefire relations with the Tatmadaw.

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