Crisis Group is monitoring the upsurge in violence in the country triggered by the military's 1 February 2021 coup d'état which deposed the Aung San Suu Kyi administration. The regime has brutally cracked down on protesters, killing hundreds and detaining thousands. Public sector strikes and other forms of civil disobedience have prevented the regime from consolidating its control, and plunged the country into deep economic crisis. Some of the country’s ethnic armed groups have gone on the offensive, and new forms of armed resistance by civilian militias and underground networks have emerged. Although Rakhine State has so far avoided some of the worst of the violence, the plight of the Rohingya remains unaddressed and the prospects for a return of almost one million languishing in camps in Bangladesh looks bleak. Through field research and advocacy, Crisis Group works to understand the new violent dynamics unleashed by the coup and mitigate the impact on the people of the country.
Armed opposition to Myanmar’s coup is spreading, leading the junta to mobilise civilian militias that, in turn, have set off a spate of reprisals. For now, informal justice meted out by local leaders is the best means of stopping the pattern from becoming self-sustaining.
Deadly fighting between Tatmadaw and resistance forces continued, while China demonstrated public support for regime. April saw profusion of military raids and clashes between regime and locally-organised people’s defence forces (PDFs). Notably, in Magway region regime forces 2-4 April raided villages in Yesagyo township, destroying at least 120 homes and killing elderly man; resistance groups 2-3 April clashed with military, reportedly killing commanding officer and injuring at least three soldiers in Myaing township. Elsewhere in Myaung township, 22 resistance groups 2-3 April led combined assault against military, reportedly killing 12 soldiers. In Sagaing region, regime forces 3 April raided village in Khin-U township, burning 200 homes; in Pinlebu township, Kachin Independence Army and PDF fighters 30 March-10 April clashed with regime forces, capturing key buildings before withdrawing under aerial bombardment from military; resistance forces reportedly detained at least eight soldiers, while fighting killed at least 13 civilians and resistance fighters and displaced some 1,000 civilians. In Kayin State, Karen National Liberation Army fighters 4 April clashed with regime forces at two locations along Kawkareik-Myawaddy stretch of so-called Asian Highway connecting Myanmar and Thailand. National Unity Govt (NUG), PDFs and ethnic armed groups 10 April congratulated Arakan Army (AA) on anniversary of foundation, underscoring growing power of group; AA leader warned that forces should “be ready to go to war”, raising possibility of renewed fighting between AA and regime forces in Rakhine state. Festivities were subdued at official Thingyan (Myanmar New Year) events 13-17 April, as resistance groups urged boycott; military 17 April announced release of 1,619 prisoners; monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma said 10,238 people were in detention for coup-related offences as of 15 April. NUG 7 April claimed responsibility for shooting Central Bank Deputy Governor. Naypyitaw court 27 April sentenced deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi to five years imprisonment in first of 11 pending corruption cases. Meanwhile, State Administration Council (SAC) FM Wunna Maung 1 April met Chinese FM Wang Yi in Huangshan city, China; in strongest public backing of regime to date, China declared it “will always support Myanmar in safeguarding sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity”.
The numerous ethnic armed groups fighting Myanmar’s regime have taken different tacks after the 2021 coup. Some are aiding the parallel government; others are not. With civil strife set to continue for some time, donors should concentrate on mitigating war’s effects on the population.
World attention to Myanmar is waning, despite the deepening impasse between the junta and resistance forces. Major powers should back the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in reinvigorated efforts to relieve the suffering of people facing poverty and disease as well as regime repression.
Across Myanmar, militias are forming to counter deadly repression of demonstrations against the 1 February coup. In response, the military has deliberately targeted civilians, displacing tens of thousands. Outside actors should press the regime to respect international law and allow humanitarian aid to the displaced.
In order to silence opposition to the February coup, Myanmar’s military is vigorously policing the internet as it quashes street protests. Outside powers and technology companies should endeavour to keep the online space free of interference and deny the junta tools of virtual repression.
Two months after the 1 February coup, Myanmar is in a deep crisis. The military seems bent on imposing its will, using draconian tactics that are only strengthening demonstrators’ will to resist. International actors should stay united in urging the junta to change course.
Myanmar's status as one of the world's largest illicit drug producers is only possible because of criminal justice failures.
Myanmar needs to be a much higher diplomatic priority for the major powers and the UN.
There’s significance in the propaganda war that’s playing out [in Myanmar]. I think they [the military] make the resistance feel emboldened and confident.
Much of the population [of Myanmar] is determined to prevent a return to military rule, at the cost of their lives if necessary.
Many people in Myanmar struggle to see how nonviolence can be effective in a situation where the regime is willing to unleash extraordinary levels of violence against ordinary people.
This is a deep, deep economic crisis [in Myanmar]. It’s a confidence issue — confidence in the regime, the banks and the economy.
Crisis Group’s Watch List identifies ten countries or regions at risk of deadly conflict or escalation thereof in 2022. In these places, early action, driven or supported by the EU and its member states, could enhance prospects for peace and stability.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and guest co-host Comfort Ero talk to Crisis Group’s Richard Horsey about the armed resistance forming against the military regime in Myanmar six months after the coup and the broader crisis provoked by the Tatmadaw’s crackdown.
The 1 February coup d’état has pushed Myanmar toward possible state collapse. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2021 – Spring Update, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to channel significant aid to Myanmar, support regional diplomacy, expand targeted sanctions on the regime and ensure that the EU arms embargo is strictly enforced.