Crisis Group is monitoring the volatility in this multi-ethnic, multi-religious country during its transition away from military rule. In Rakhine state, longstanding communal tensions and government discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim minority have morphed into a major crisis. In August 2017, following militant attacks, the military drove more than 750,000 Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh. This human catastrophe is also a potential driver of transnational jihadist group mobilisation or recruitment. Meanwhile, armed conflict has escalated in both Rakhine and Shan states, and the peace process with some 21 ethnic armed groups has lost momentum as it collides with political and electoral realities. Through field research and advocacy, Crisis Group works to mitigate the impact of armed conflict, strengthen the peace process and promote improved communal relations.
In a briefing to the UN Security Council’s 9 April 2021 'Arria-Formula' Meeting on the situation in Myanmar, Crisis Group’s Myanmar expert Richard Horsey warned that the country stands on the brink of state failure, and argued that there is every justification for the Council to impose an arms embargo on the regime.
Mass protests continued against military’s Feb coup as security forces ramped up deadly crackdown on demonstrators, prompting international outcry. Amid tightened restrictions on internet services, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters demanding end to military rule continued street action nationwide, including in capital Naypyitaw, Yangon, Mandalay and many other towns and cities; in response, police and soldiers increasingly used deadly force against demonstrators, firing tear gas shells, stun grenades and live ammunition, and burning at least one person alive. Security forces throughout March also conducted intimidating terror campaign at night in residential neighbourhoods, which involved summary executions, indiscriminately firing rubber bullets, arbitrary house searches, beatings and other abuses. Rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners stated over 500 people killed during security crackdown between 1 Feb coup and late March, with over 2,258 – including 37 journalists – arrested. Armed Forces Day 27 March marked deadliest so far with security forces killing some 158 protesters and bystanders, including 14 children. Despite crackdown, civil disobedience movement persisted among govt employees and during month expanded into general strike; hundreds of police officers have also resigned, joined disobedience movement or fled country. Military 11 March confirmed new bribery charges against Aung San Suu Kyi, and said ruling military council will only control country for certain period of time before holding election. Acting VP of civilian parallel govt 13 March vowed to pursue “revolution” to overturn coup. Military 23 March expressed regret for deaths of demonstrators and security forces; next day freed hundreds of arrested protesters. FMs from South East Asia regional group ASEAN 2 March stated they were “appalled” by violence while EU 4 March suspended financial support for development projects and 22 March sanctioned military leaders. After freezing around $1bn in Myanmar’s central bank reserves held at U.S. Federal Reserve in Feb, U.S. 4, 10 and 22 March announced new sanctions against junta. UN Security Council 10 March strongly condemned violence against protesters. Junta 11 March confirmed it had removed Arakan Army (AA) insurgents from list of terrorist groups; AA 23 March condemned military coup and “cruel and unacceptable” crackdown.
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 military overthrew its newly elected parliament on 1 February, halting the country’s democratic transition and sparking massive protests. External actors should cooperate to prevent a violent crackdown and adopt tailored measures that target coup leaders, without penalising the population or damaging the broader economy.
An informal ceasefire has created the best opportunity in two years to curb fighting between Myanmar and the Arakan Army, the ethnic Rakhine rebels in the country’s north. To seize it, all three of the military, civilian government and insurgency need to make significant concessions.
De facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is likely to win Myanmar’s 8 November elections. The next test will be whether the result entrenches minority grievances that fuel armed conflict or revives reform efforts to give minorities a fairer deal alongside the Burman Buddhist majority.
Ethnicity and conflict are tightly linked in Myanmar, as communal groups take up arms to press grievances for which they have found no other recourse. The problem calls for dialogue and deep reform, but meanwhile authorities can take smaller steps to indicate their positive intent.
The polls approaching in Myanmar are an opportunity for the government and ethnic armed groups to re-examine their positions in the country’s peace process. All parties should use the election-related hiatus to ask why talks have not succeeded and how to make them more productive.
There will inevitably be calls for UN sanctions [against Myanmar], but I don’t think China and Russia are ready to go that far.
As Myanmar starts to consolidate a system of electoral democracy after so many decades of authoritarianism, observers play a key role in giving the elections credibility.
[The drug trade] is a problem of the armed conflict in Myanmar [and] it is also a problem of corruption.
The overall impression is that Myanmar is being cautious about Chinese investment, especially ahead of elections planned later in the year.
[Aung San Suu Kyi] likely feels that she must do all she can to defend the national interest against what most people in Myanmar see as biased and politically-motivated charges.
The Pope was aware that inserting himself too strongly into a situation with a lot of religious undertones could inflame tensions further in Myanmar.
On 1 February, Myanmar’s armed forces overthrew the country’s civilian leaders. International actors should make clear in word and deed that there will be no business as usual until the elected government is restored. If protests break out, the military should act with maximum restraint.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and guest host Richard Atwood talk about the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh with Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director Olga Oliker and examine Myanmar’s identity crisis with Crisis Group expert Richard Horsey.