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Northern Alliance (NA)

The Northern Alliance (NA) is a coalition of four ethnic insurgent groups operating primarily in Kachin, Shan, Karen, and Rakhine States. The groups included in the coalition are the Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Taang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Of the four groups, the KIA is the largest and oldest. The four groups have an approximate combined strength of over 20,000 fighters, who employ both regular and irregular means to fight against the Burmese Army (Tatmadaw).

According to the NA, their primary goals are to create a federal democratic union and to secure, through armed means, the rights of ethnic minority peoples from the Burmese government. The NA has also stated that they must protect the ethnic minority groups in Burma from the Tatmadaw to prevent human rights violations and extra-judicial killings.

Likewise, they cite the on-going ground attacks and air strikes conducted by the Tatmadaw, in addition to widespread reports of gang rape and other rights violations, as reasons why they refuse to lay down arms. Groups in the NA use conventional military tactics and equipment, as well as IEDs and guerilla tactics to primarily target Tatmadaw, though recent attacks highlight the possibility that the attacks may also target civilian and government institutions or individuals. Though unconfirmed, it is possible that groups within the NA were responsible for the IED detonation at a bank in Lashio, Shan State and several other attacks in Rakhine State.

Starting in January 2016, the Burmese government has been engaged in brokering peace deals with several armed ethnic groups, ultimately convening the 21st Century Panglong Conference in August 2016. One of the requirements for groups to participate in the peace process is the adoption of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which mandates disarmament. This has been the primary sticking point for the peace process with the NA and its allies. The NA has requested mediation by Chinese officials through their ally, the United Wa State Army (UWSA); the government has been receptive, but only if the NA disarms and signs the NCA.

During a meeting on 23-26 March 2018, Chinese representatives were said to warn members of the Northern Alliance not to cooperate or ally themselves with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), purportedly because ARSA allies itself with Uyghur extremists. Though no sub-organizations were specifically mentioned, speculation arose that recent IED activity in Rakhine by the AA may have spurred the conversation.

Most notably, three members of the alliance, - the AA, TNLA and MNDAA - carried out coordinated attacks in five locations on 15 August 2019. These attacks targeted security posts in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay and Naung Cho, Shan State and killed a total of 15 security officers and two civilians and wounded 13 civilians. Each armed ethnic group in Burma has its own mission and operational methodologies. For example, the AAs objective is to seek a self-governing state comprised of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, whereas the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) is an ethnonationalist insurgent group comprised of ethnic Muslim Rohingya.

IED activity perpetrated by the ARSA has significantly diminished in the aftermath of the harsh military crackdown that triggered a massive refugee crisis on the Burma-Bangladesh border in 2017, with only three events carried out by the group in 2019. However, these attacks still indicate that ARSA has continued to maintain a posture in Rakhine. In Rakhine, as tensions between the AA and Burmese security forces remained escalated, the abduction of government affiliated personnel increasingly became a common occurrence in 2019. The AAs use of conventional weaponry in Rakhine State continued to be more commonplace, such as rockets used to attack Burmese naval vessels. While VEOs continue to ramp up operations and put pressure on Burmese forces and the government, the lack of successful ceasefire agreements will greatly affect the stability of the region in 2020.

At this point, it is unclear if the NA will be able or willing to lay down arms, as violence has been on the rise following the killing of seven demonstrators in Mrauk U, Rakhine State. The demonstrators were commemorating the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Arakan Kingdom to the ethnic Burmese; several ethnic Arakanese individuals attempted to take control of a local government office and security forces fired into a crowd. With violent incidents, such as the firing on civilians and the detonation of IEDs, continuing to occur it seems unlikely that a peaceful solution will be reached without external mediation.

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Page last modified: 03-06-2020 18:35:04 ZULU