In the early days of a brutal military crackdown on demonstrators against the 2021 coup in Myanmar, members of the nascent resistance movement began to wonder:how many corpsesIt would be necessary for the world community to act.
More than two years after a coup that installed military rule in the Southeast Asian country, pro-democracy protesters say they not yet received a satisfactory answer.
On April 11, 2023, the country’s armed forces fell multiple bombs at a rally in Pazigyi, a village in the Sagaing region about 100 peopleit has been estimated, including many children.
Such attacks are not uncommon, if not usually so deadly. The day before the Sagaing massacre, the Myanmar Air Force drop bombs in Falam, Chin State, which killed 11 people. In fact, since the outbreak of the civil war, 3,240 civilians and pro-democracy activists have been murdered, according to the human rights organization Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. In answer, a fierce resistance movement originated with a an estimated 65,000 fighters the use of ambushes and other guerrilla tactics against military targets.
Like a scholar about the history of MyanmarI would argue that the escalating violence can be attributed to two main factors, one internal and one external: a miscalculation by the military about the resistance of the people of Myanmar, and ambivalence on the part of the international community.
From coup to civil war
Myanmar has witnessed killings by the military almost daily since generals seized control of the country in 2021. The coup ended the brief period of democratic rule Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyiparty, the National League for Democracy.
But there are, I think, reasons to suggest that the Myanmar military seriously misjudged the timing of the coup and underestimated the sentiment of a people unwilling to give up the freedom and prosperity it has under democracy. experienced.
In this, the military may have been misled by the experience of their counterparts in neighboring Thailand. In 2014, generals in Thailand staged a coup end months of political instability and promise a process to return to democratic rule. That coup was met with sporadic protests, but there was no united armed resistance in response.
Myanmar’s military similarly pledged “free and fair elections” further down the line after his coup.
Unlike in Thailand, the people of Myanmar – especially the younger generations who came of age in the post-2010 democratic decade – vehemently opposed the military takeover and were skeptical of claims it would restore democracy.
After peaceful protests that followed the coup met with live ammunitionpro-democracy activists turned to armed resistance.
In the years that followed, many young people did military training – often by armed ethnic groups that already existed along the national borders – and fought back under the umbrella resistance group, People’s Defense Forces.
Protracted actions against the coup have humiliated the Myanmar army. The commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, recently admitted that two years after the coup, the army is still no control over parts of the country. He vowed to intensify the crackdown on people he branded “terrorists.”
The growing instability, Min Aung Hlaing said, meant that promised elections – after which the army would hand over power to a civilian government – cannot be scheduled.
Unite around a common enemy
Myanmar’s military leaders have done just that sworn to destroy resistance groups. Still, there are reasons to believe that resistance is only getting stronger.
Despite slow initial progress to show a common front, the Bamar majority and minority ethnic groups such as Karen, Chin, Kachin, Rakhine and Karenni seem to unite against military rule. And have resistance fighters broad support through the land.
Much will now depend on whether Myanmar soldiers lose the will to fight. There are already signs of tension. The military is reportedly facing an acute shortage of new recruits, resulting in women being trained to fight in battle. People in the The heart of Bamarincluding Sagaing where the April 11 massacre took place, refuse to allow their sons to join the Myanmar army.
In such circumstances, Myanmar’s military increasingly relies on guns and bombs rather than troops.
But the longer the resistance lasts, the more humiliating it will be for a junta that has increased its annual spending on the military to an estimated $2.7 billion – more than 25% of the national budget – largely to suppress its own population.
Run the oil and gas taps
These internal dynamics largely took place without intensive scrutiny from the international community, say pro-democracy activists.
The war in Ukraine has seemingly pushed Myanmar down the list of international concerns. It has also exacerbated rifts between world powers who would otherwise likely be on the same page about the deteriorating situation – prolonged violence and instability in Myanmar is not in any country’s strategic interest, not least China or the United States.
Both the US and the United Nations have issued statements in support of democracy in Burma, and convicted murders.
But concrete action – to which it has been largely limited so far sanctions against individuals and entities – falls short what human rights groups have demanded. For example, there has been no comprehensive global arms embargo despite the use of weapons against civilians. Myanmar has not been either closed from foreign currency income. And the country can still buy the jet fuel used by bombers, despite calls for one worldwide ban on such sales to accompany the recent sanctions imposed by some governments, including the US.
In addition, the sanctions have yet to hit Myanmar’s energy sector. Activist group Justice for Myanmar has identified 22 oil and gas companies from countries, including the US, that continued to provide revenue to Myanmar’s generals during the civil war. Indeed, American oil companies including Chevron lobbied hard against broad sanctions against the Myanmar army.
With oil revenues not cut off, Myanmar’s generals – for whom oil and gas are a important source of income – to fund the military.
To many in the resistance movement, the international community’s reluctance to put more pressure on the country’s military seems like global conspiracy. It also has the potential to prolong the violence by funding the army’s campaign.
Watch out for the tiger’s tail
A well-known expression from Myanmar warns of the dangers from “grabbing a tiger’s tail” – once you do, there’s no turning back; let go and you will be killed.
It is an apt summary of the position of Myanmar’s military rulers and resistance fighters who are drawn deeper into the conflict with each atrocity. They fight for the past, present and future and can’t let go now.