After almost a month of protests, the military junta in Myanmar has crossed the rubicon and now seems determined to end the protests in its own way. Following a speech by the UN Ambassador of Myanmar to the UN General Assembly on Friday, hundreds of people were arrested across Myanmar on Saturday. Dozens were injured when the security forces attacked anyone who stood in their way in a targeted crackdown on protests against the military regime across the country. The state broadcaster Myanmar Radio and Television announced in the evening that on Saturday already 479 “opponents of the state” were arrested across the country. By Sunday morning, at least 18 people had been shot by police.
The situation is getting worse
For three weeks, people in Burma have been taking to the streets to denounce the military dictatorship. The protests led to bloodshed before the weekend, including in the capital Naypyitaw and in Mandalay, where last week five people, including a 16-year-old boy, were shot dead by riot police and soldiers. But the first victim was Mya Thweh Thweh Khine, a 20-year-old student who was shot in the head on February 9 and died 10 days later. Her funeral took place with great participation.
The police and the military had initially held back after the coup of February 1. They themselves were surprised at the extent of the rejection that was meted out to them, and probably hoped that after some time the wave of protest would ebb away by itself. It is clear that the regime has nothing to gain from another bloodbath and much to lose. Domestically, a systematic crackdown will enrage the already angry and hostile population even more. Internationally, widespread bloodshed will bring the regime even more into disrepute and drive it into isolation.
But despite all the threats of the regime, people continued to take to the streets every day, inventing new protest techniques and threatening to make the country ungovernable. The resistance became stronger and stronger and eventually expanded into a nationwide general strike. The world could watch, the Internet and social media spread everything in no time.
Myanmar’s junta currently rules a nation at a standstill. Now the regime wants to enforce its authority with all force, end the strikes and silence the protests. On Friday (February 26), the security forces attacked peaceful anti-coup demonstrators in Myanmar’s three largest cities, firing guns, throwing stun grenades and beating people with batons. They also targeted journalists who reported on the events.
On Saturday, February 27, the action against the demonstrators became more violent and comprehensive than before. There were bloody military raids throughout the country, from the Kachin state in the north to Myeik in the deep south of Myanmar. Videos show that riot police, soldiers and some plainclothes policemen used excessive force and beat unarmed civilians with their batons. However, the junta’s minions were not limited to targeting demonstrators. They indiscriminately intimidated and arrested innocent people.
Unimpressed by the repeated attacks by the police, the demonstrators, equipped only with protective helmets and gas masks, organized themselves during the day for further rallies behind makeshift barricades, which consisted mostly of garbage cans and carts.
At least 30 people were injured when soldiers and police broke up a demonstration in Mandalay last Saturday. Hundreds of people had gathered to support striking shipyard workers. A 16-year-old protester was shot in the head on the spot, while another died in hospital from a gunshot to the chest.
Yesterday’s Sunday was the deadliest day since the uprising began. The preliminary balance by early afternoon: at least 18 people were killed and dozens more arrested and injured, the final number will probably be higher.
Even after days of constantly escalating attacks by police and soldiers, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Rangoon, Dawei, Mandalay, Bago and other cities. In Rangoon, the police were already deployed at the beginning of the day to disperse the protesting crowd at the main rally points. Thousands of people had gathered at a crossroads when the police arrived. Within a few minutes, the police began attacking the crowd with grenades and then shooting at them with live ammunition. Also in Rangoon, the security forces broke up a protest by teachers and shot dead a school teacher. Riot police pursued fleeing demonstrators in the residential districts and intimidated uninvolved bystanders. Despite the brutal actions of the police, large crowds continued to gather all over the country, chanting anti-military slogans, showing the three-fingered salute and singing revolutionary songs.
According to The Irrawaddy newspaper, they also arrested journalists covering the protests of the civil disobedience movement: “By Saturday evening, more than 10 local journalists from news agencies such as 7 Day News, Myanmar Now, Monywa Gazette, Hakha Times and The Associated Press were detained by security forces in Rangoon, Monywa, Chin State and other areas.”
Methods of suppression
The methods of oppression, in addition to the suppression of street protests, are the same as those used so far by all fascist and Stalinist regimes, from the Nazis to Stalin to Pinochet and its allies in South America. This category also includes the Burmese military junta.
Shortly after the coup, on February 12, the regime warned all journalists not to talk about “junta” or “regime” in their reports, and warned the newspapers that they would lose their license if they continued to refer to the “constitutional government” as the junta sees itself as a “regime” or “junta”.
Since the coup, many well-known opposition figures have fled to avoid imminent arrest. They never sleep more than three nights in the same bed. The military regime has warned the public not to house fugitive political activists after issuing arrest warrants against them. In order to enforce the accommodation ban, the regime reintroduced the “overnight guest registration system”, which had been abolished by the NLD government. The guest registration system primarily serves to persecute those who oppose the regime and also those who help them. Shortly after the coup, the regime reintroduced the rule requiring residents to request permission for overnight guests from the district administrator. The penalty for failure to obtain such a permit is a fine of 10,000 kyats or seven days in prison.
The law allows the security forces to conduct late-night raids without a warrant. While people are in their homes during the curfew from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., security forces show up to “ask a few questions” and search the house for suspects or traces of them. In response, whole neighborhoods have already joined together to protect those who are threatened with arrest and go on patrol at night despite curfew.
Another new tactic is nightly Internet shutdowns between 1 and 9 o’clock. Without unduly affecting business activities during the day, the shutdowns make it easier for troops to search for and arrest protest leaders, of whom more than 500 have already been arrested, according to UN sources.
Since the mass strikes, the junta has also targeted the local business community. Dozens of large, medium and small business owners and entrepreneurs across the country have been summoned, interrogated and arrested by the Office of the Chief of Security Affairs, the most feared branch of Myanmar’s military intelligence service. They are accused of making donations to the National League for Democracy (NLD). Doctors and teachers at the forefront of the civil disobedience movement were also arrested.
In recent days, the regime has also deployed its own civilian thugs against the demonstrators. This tactic is also used regularly by Thailand, where the regime incites pro-government, violent monarchists against demonstrators and looks away when they beat or shoot their opponents. Supporters of the military come and go to the USDP office in Rangoon (the USDP is the party that campaigned for the military in the November 8 elections) and are driven from there to their “places of action” to make riots and start fights. They are also often paid to attend rallies in support of the military. In the people they are called the KYAs, because they get about 5000 kyats for each such action. The KYAs are often armed with knives, iron rods and slingshots. Many demonstrators have been injured by this Burmese S. A. force in recent days.
The relatives of the injured are denied visits to the hospital. Worse still, the injured are visited by the junta’s henchmen and detained in the hospital. A 26-year-old young man was shot in the leg and taken to a hospital in Mandalay. A little later he was dead. The military blamed Covid-19 for his death, his wife says he was beaten to death.
The international situation
Shortly after the coup, the putschist general and head of the current Burmese junta had written a letter to Thai Prime Minister Chan-Ocha to explain why the coup was inevitable and to ask him to help his junta with the “democratization process” (sic). This is quite grotesque when you know that Chan-Ocha himself led a coup in Thailand in 2014 and, after rigged elections, was appointed prime minister even though he is not even an elected member of parliament.
Last Wednesday, the foreign Minister of Myanmar’s military government, Maung Lwin, was in Bangkok for talks with Chan-Ocha and Thailand’s Foreign Minister. There he also met with the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Mrs. Retno Marsudi, who was in Bangkok at the time but preferred not to fly to Myanmar for talks.
The meeting led to further protests in Myanmar, because Maung Lwin is not the elected foreign Minister of Myanmar. His name is Htin Lin Aung and he was appointed by the junta. A meeting with the foreign minister appointed by the military junta amounts to recognition of his function.
After the meeting, Ms. Marsudi actually proposed a new election for Myanmar. It seems, however, that she had to withdraw, since the proposal was met with skepticism even in diplomatic circles. Pro-democracy groups in Myanmar protested in front of the Indonesian embassy in Rangoon, saying that they would accept nothing less than the recognition of the election result of November 8.
The proposals of governments in Europe usually aim to return the situation in Myanmar to the status quo ante. But a return to the state of before February 1 is unrealistic. Even if the junta were to resign and accept the election, thus allowing Ms. Suu Kyi and the NLD to take over government operations again, the risk of another coup would continue to hover over the civilian government like a sword of damocles. That is why the demonstrators in Myanmar are calling for major constitutional changes. Many demonstrators also call for a new federalist system, a solution to the ethnic conflicts in many parts of the country that have led to instability between the civilian government and the military.
And besides, you can’t just forget what happened and leave the putschists unpunished. After all, high treason and mass murder are not a minor offence. You can’t just say: Sponge on it, come on, we’ll get along again. The putschists must be brought before a public court, and the people must then decide their fate.
Although most countries condemn the coup, some countries have already imposed or announced sanctions. Since the sanctions have little effect, some believe that the hope for a peaceful solution lies with ASEAN. The foreign ministers of the ASEAN countries, of which Myanmar is a member, plan to meet for a meeting tomorrow, Tuesday.
But let’s not fool ourselves: the hope for Burmese democracy does not lie with Aung San Suu Kyi, not with the West, nor with the ASEAN partners. The so-called “international community” will blow meaningless hot air over the Coup, but nothing of substance will change. International sanctions have never brought about democracy.
The Tatmadaw was unmoved when the US imposed sanctions in 1998 after the military violently suppressed a protest. She was unmoved by the years of international condemnation that followed the detention of Suu Kyi. And she was unmoved by the sanctions imposed by Donald Trump over the massacres of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. The real hope for Burmese democracy is that the pro-democracy movement will succeed in destroying the coup plotters and bringing a people’s government to power. Whether and to what extent Suu Kyi and the NLD are still in the game, one will see then, to demand it now already, is unrealistic, because the NLD was always ready to lazy compromises with the military. That is why Burma is now in the mess where it is, and by no means because Suu Kyi would have been too stubborn and not willing to compromise.
On Friday, February 26, the UN Ambassador to Myanmar, Kyaw Moe Tun, addressed the UN General Assembly. The visibly moved Myanmar envoy sided with the overthrown government of the NLD and spoke on behalf of the millions of people in Myanmar who oppose the military coup. He asked the international community not to cooperate with the regime and to help remove it so that power could be returned to the elected government. At the end of his speech, which was applauded by all the states present, he showed the three-finger salute, the sign of the democracy movement in Thailand as well as in Myanmar. Needless to say, he was subsequently removed from office by the ruling military junta in Burma and accused of treason. His brave speech is unique in the history of the UN. Never before has an ambassador there called for the overthrow of his country’s government. The speech by Kyaw Moe Tun encouraged many people in Burma and was welcomed there and shared on social media.
Three days after the coup, on 4 February 2021, 70 elected members of the NLD took an oath of office in a private house and promised to abide by the mandate of the people and exercise their office as elected representatives of the people. After that, 300 elected members formed the Committee for the Conduct of Parliamentary Affairs (CRPH) and called on the international community and UN diplomats to contact the committee exclusively to discuss official government matters. Kyaw Moe Tun responded to this request. However, the Thai government, the Indonesian government and ASEAN seem to prefer to talk directly to the military junta. The Burmese people do not have much to expect from them.
Kyaw Moe Tun’s speech has finally discredited the junta before the world. All hopes of the Burmese putschist government for international recognition may have gone down the drain. No one will now risk being seen with you under the lantern.
On Saturday, February 27, the junta declared the election result of November 8 invalid. The Junta warned MPs that “those who do not want to participate in the CRPH can report in person to the respective government councils from Sunday to March 6,” and threatened those who do not do so with “serious measures.”
The civil war in Burma started on Saturday at the latest. There is no room for negotiation anymore. The military must be disarmed and the leaders must be publicly tried. Let the people decide their fate. The coup was planned in advance, it was not in the interest of the Burmese people, it was for low motives, to protect the business interests and the illegal machinations of the military. The attempted suppression of the protests is just as cold-blooded, and criminal as the Coup itself. There can therefore be no mitigating circumstances for the sentence.