Myanmar Risks Civil War as Military Government Attacks Pro-Democracy Protesters

Written by Oliver Toms

Over 535 civilians have been killed by Government security forces after the military assumed power following a coup on 1st February.

A wave of pro-democracy protests have been suppressed by government security forces, with government forces shooting directly at protesters with live ammunition in over 40 locations. Government security forces fired rifle grenades at protesters on 10th April, killing 82. The violence occurred at the town of Bago, 90km northeast of Yangon. There have also been unconfirmed reports of armoured vehicles being used to attack crowds of protesters.

Photo by Maung Nyan via Shutterstock

Human rights organisation Save The Children has said that at least 43 children are counted amongst the death toll, with the youngest victim just 6 years old.  The organisation added that government violence had created a “nightmare situation” and that Myanmar “is no longer a safe place for children”.

The government has also implemented an internet shutdown. Mobile data has been cut off since 15th March, and wireless connections have been shut off permanently after 50 days of nightly restrictions.

Protesters have been holding candle lit vigils for those that have been killed by the government forces. Protesters in Yangon have participated in a “Garbage protest” whereby mass amounts of rubbish is dumped at key road intersections after a government announcement over loudspeaker that citizens must dispose of their rubbish properly.

Photo by Zinko Hein via Unsplash

The military government’s actions have been criticized by the international community. Tanee Sangrat, spokesperson for the neighboring Thailand’s foreign ministry, has said that Bangkok is “deeply troubled” by the increasing casualties and called for an immediate de-escalation.

UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced economic sanctions on 1st April against the conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), which is closely linked to the military government. In a statement Mr Raab said: “Two months on from the start of the coup, the Myanmar military has sunk to a new low with the wanton killing of innocent people, including children. The UK’s latest actions target one of the military’s key funding streams and impose a further cost on them for their violations of human rights”.

Armed ethnic groups including the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance, Arakan Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army have signed a joint letter demanding that the military stop attacking peaceful protesters. The letter warned that if the government did not comply then the groups “will cooperate with all nationalities who are joining Myanmar’s spring revolution in terms of self-defence”.

Myanmar has a long history of armed ethnic minority groups opposing increasing centralization and demanding greater autonomy. Clashes between the Karen National Union (KNU) and government forces occurred on 28th March at the Thai border after KNU insurgents attacked a military outpost, with the government responding by bombing local villages. Over 3,000 civilians were forced to abandon their homes and flee to the Thai border following the government air strikes.

A police station in the town of Naungmon was also attacked by an alliance of fighters from the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. Government sources claim that 10 police officers were killed during the attack.

The democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi was deposed by a military coup on 1st February. Ms Suu Kyi and other members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party were detained. The former leader and three of her cabinet ministers were charged with violating the official secrets law on 26th March in a military court, but Ms Suu Kyi’s lawyers have said that they were only made aware of the charge on 31st March.

The military leaders allege that Myanmar’s 2020 general election, where the NLD won a landslide, was fraudulent. No evidence has been presented by the military leaders.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been under military rule for most of its history since gaining independence from the UK in 1948. The military government relaxed its hold on the country in 2010, and in 2015 Aung San Suu Kyi won the first free elections held in the country.

In 2017 half a million Rohingya Muslims were forced across to the border to Bangladesh following a police crackdown in response to attacks by Rohingya militants. The UN described the event as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

The 2008 constitution served as a way for the military to preserve its influence over Myanmar’s government as it transitioned into a civilian government in 2011.

MPs who went underground following the 2021 coup formed an alternative civilian government called the CRPH. The CRPH declared the 2008 constitution invalid. The constitution gave the military a quarter of the seats in parliament and a constitutional veto.

The CRPH has announced a “federal democracy charter” on social media, which is to serve as an interim constitution and provides a framework for a “national unity government” to lead the country while a permanent constitution is drafted. The “federal democracy charter” is also part of a campaign of the CRPH to form an alliance with the ethnic minority groups to form a federal army to oppose the Tatmadaw, the military government’s army.

Dr Sasa, the international envoy of the CRPH said: “If [the international community] fails to take action, of course unavoidable all-out civil war and more bloody days and more bloody weeks and more bloody months await ahead of us. Having a federal army becomes a must and it’s the way we achieve democracy and freedom”.

Christine Schaner Burgener, the UN special envoy to Myanmar, told a closed-door session of the UN security council that: “If we wait only for when they [the military government] are ready to talk, the ground situation will only worsen. A bloodbath is imminent”.

Featured images courtesy of Unsplash and Shutterstock. No changes have been made to these images.

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/31/un-security-council-must-act-to-stop-bloodbath-in-myanmar-says-envoy

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/uk-targets-myanmar-army-with-new-sanctions/2195182

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