In the past week Burma’s State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) decided to stop pulling its punches with what we have come to know as the “ceasefire groups”.

In the northern Shan State there has been fighting on a scale that hasn’t been seen for decades. According to Xinhua, tens of thousands refugees from the Kokang region (controlled by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and also known as Shan State Special Region 1), have fled across the border into China’s western Yunnan. A good map of the area is available here. There is speculation that the fighting may now spread to the eastern Shan State (pictures of the exact area available here), and even to the Kachin State.

The battles in the northern Shan State have already tested the resolve of those who have enjoyed such long periods of “peace” and “development” under the ceasefires. I would expect that many of the “ceasefire” troops, particularly those from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, have only limited combat experience. 700 of their men have reportedly already surrendered to Chinese authorities. Many United Wa State Army soldiers, on the other hand, have a fair amount of frontline fighting under their belts. Some of their units have maintained battle-readiness through their long-term deployments along the Thailand-Burma border. Will they now be drawn into a more general conflict?

One of the other issues that intrigues me about these battles in the northern Shan State is the possibility of an alliance of ceasefire armies that draws some of its strength from the connections made during the SPDC-sponsored constitution-drafting National Convention. During the National Convention, delegations from “ceasefire” areas, such as this one, lived and worked together in Rangoon. It would be surprising if they did not develop some strong relationships. Before the opportunities presented by the National Convention many of the top ethnic leaders had spent their recent years relatively isolated in their border strongholds. In the meantime, non-ceasefire groups have been largely forced to make do with these kinds of mountain-top meetings.

But are things now changing? In the past days the “Myanmar Peace and Democracy Front”, with Wa, Kokang, New Democratic Army – Kachin and Eastern Shan State Army members, has released a joint statement (translated here) that gives some sense of the potential solidarity among the ceasefire groups.

And this “Myanmar Peace and Democracy Front” is only one possible alliance configuration. Could a broader grouping of Wa, Kokang, Shan, Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Mon, etc., get together to take the fight back to the SPDC? It remains an intriguing, but unlikely, possibility. Instead, is 2009 going be the year when the ceasefire armies will be “divided and ruled” once-and-for-all?