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06/29/2023 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) ––Former military-affiliated ethnic forces in Kayah State in eastern Myanmar joined the ongoing resistance to the junta. The ethnic forces belonged to units of the Border Guard Forces and are reportedly the first units to change their allegiance since the Burmese military, known as the Tatmadaw, seized power in a coup in 2021.

Approximately 13,000 security forces have defected to the resistance, according to the National Unit Government (NUG)—a shadow government formed by ousted members of the elected government, including the National League for Democracy (NLD). 

The Border Guard Forces formed in 2009 from elements of ethnic insurgent groups that agreed to a cease-fire with a previous military government, according to the Associated Press. The ethnic forces that recently defected to the resistance primarily include members of the Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF), which formed in 1978 from dissenting members of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), according to The DiplomatAlthough the KNPLF issued a statement condemning the coup in 2021, it did not begin fighting the Tatmadaw until now. The KNPP has been fighting for autonomy from the Burmese government since 1957. 

After decades of rule under a military junta, Myanmar began transitioning to democracy in 2015 under the NLD with Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) as the de facto leader. Proposals by the NLD to reform the constitution established by the regime in 2008 led the military to stage a coup in 2021, setting off the civil war that persists to this day. 

A disproportionate share of the conflict has occurred in Kayah State, inhabited mostly by the Karenni ethnic group (also known as Red Karen or Kayah). The conflict between the government and insurgents has displaced more than 40 percent of the Karenni population since 2021, according to The Diplomat.  A large minority of the population in Kayah State is Christian, with estimates ranging from 25 to 45 percent. 

This comes as the Thai government recently hosted a controversial conference, including representatives for the Tatmadaw for members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other nations to discuss the situation in Myanmar. International Christian Concern (ICC) recently reported on the overall effect of the civil war in Myanmar, leaving approximately 30,000 people killed and more than 2 million displaced. The recent cyclone that devastated Rakhine State in southwestern Myanmar further strained suffering Christians, according to other ICC reports. 

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