Violence in Myanmar is escalating. What to know

During a protest against the military coup in Yangon, a protester stands near a burning makeshift barricade.

STR | AFP | Getty Images

Myanmar is in chaos as protesters show no sign of resigning from the February 1 military coup that ousted the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy. The demonstrators were hit with brutal violence.

A UN special envoy warned of an impending “bloodbath” if the military does not stop its brutal crackdown, which has so far cost hundreds of lives.

According to Reuters, the military stopped broadband internet services as a last step.

The military is killing peaceful protesters

According to local reports from Myanmar, protesters are being killed in major cities of Yangon and Mandalay, which are currently under martial law. May Wong, a journalist covering the crisis, posted a graphic video of the carnage.

Violence across the country has spread beyond the capital cities. A 13-year-old boy was killed near the Thai border in southwest Myanmar.

More than 100 people died on Sunday, the bloodiest day since the coup began. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the estimated death toll to date is 536, although the real number is likely higher, AAPP said.

Violence against ethnic minorities has also increased. The Karen National Union, a political organization in southeast Myanmar with an armed wing, alleged, according to Reuters, that its Karen were attacked by fighter jets of the Myanmar Army during night air raids. The attack violates a 2015 ceasefire agreement.

Several ethnic minorities are now banding together to defend themselves against the country’s junta. Three of the country’s armed forces, including the Arakan Army, have vowed to form an alliance and carry out a “spring revolution” if the violence doesn’t stop, Reuters reported.

“We have no choice but to face these serious threats from the army of the illegitimate military junta in order to defend our territory, our Karen peoples and their rights of self-determination,” said a statement by the KNU on March 30th.

The crisis started with a coup to overthrow an election

In the November elections, Suu Kyi’s NLD won enough seats to form a government. But the Myanmar military contested the results, citing irregularities.

On February 1, the military ousted the sedentary government and detained Suu Kyi and other NLD party members. Since then, Suu Kyi has been charged with illegally importing walkie talkies and violating natural disasters for violating the Covid-19 protocols.

Most recently, she was hit by an official secret charge, the most serious to date. If convicted, the prison sentence can be up to 14 years. According to a Myanmar free speech website, the law was “created in 1923 by the British colonial government to criminalize the exchange of almost all government information”.

Local media reported that more than 600 detainees were released after being charged with various alleged violations in attempts to appease protesters. Suu Kyi and party members remain behind bars.

Myanmar is no stranger to military rule. The country was run by the totalitarian Burma Socialist Program Party for much of the past century. The country is also known as Burma.

In 1988 A student-led anti-military revolution turned into a nationwide movement led by Suu Kyi. In 1990, Suu Kyi’s NLD won the country’s general election, the first since 1960, but the military placed elected officials under house arrest. Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was imprisoned for almost 15 years. In 2015, she led her party to victory in Myanmar’s first democratic elections in 25 years.

Her international reputation has suffered in recent years after she defended the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority by the Myanmar military. But it remains popular with the Buddhist majority in the country.

The US and its allies have imposed sanctions

The US and the European Union have imposed sanctions on junta-affiliated military officials. In addition, the US and UK imposed sanctions on local companies providing resources for the military.

In its latest move, the US suspended a trade deal with Myanmar until the elected government was brought back to power.

Canada and Australia have banned the purchase and export of weapons to and from Myanmar.

Several other countries, including Japan, France and Thailand, have suspended aid to Myanmar and ceased operations within the country.

There are calls for UN sanctions, but China and Russia could get in the way

The United Nations has not yet imposed sanctions on Myanmar. Several high-ranking people spoke about the ongoing violence.

The UN envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, called on the Security Council on Wednesday to take collective action, warning that “a bloodbath is imminent” in Myanmar.

In a tweet, the UN recommended its employees to leave the country temporarily.

A group of more than 130 human rights organizations and non-profit groups has called on the Security Council and UN member states to impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar.

However, Russia and China sit on the Security Council and have a right of veto over all efforts by the United Nations to impose sanctions or embargoes.

The Security Council issued a statement in early March calling on the military to exercise restraint and expressing support for the democratic transition in Myanmar. According to Reuters, however, Russia, China, India and Vietnam have called for the word “coup” to be deleted and for further action to be threatened.

China was largely neutral maintains close ties with both the displaced NLD and the military junta. However, according to Institut Montaigne, a French nonprofit think tank, Chinese interests would be threatened by sanctions against Myanmar’s resource, mining and energy companies.

According to Reuters, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin met with Major General of Myanmar Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw to strengthen ties with the military. Fomin said Myanmar is a strategic partner and ally despite clear human rights violations.

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