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.
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.
While opposition govt declared “people’s defensive war” to depose military dictatorship, announcement failed to lead to sustained escalation in attacks. National Unity Govt (NUG) 7 Sept declared “people’s defensive war” and state of emergency calling on people to rise up against regime. State Administration Council regime 9 Sept accused NUG, Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), People’s Defence Force and some ethnic armed groups of choosing “the terror way” and 12 Sept said NUG declaration aimed “to destabilise the country” to influence 14 Sept UN General Assembly decision on Myanmar’s UN credentials. While declaration did not result in significant escalation, deadly attacks on regime targets have continued. Notably, series of militia ambushes early Sept launched against troops in Magway region’s Gangaw township prompted military to occupy area, which resulted in killing of at least 22 villagers from 9-10 Sept, including teenagers and elderly. Military forces 18-19 Sept clashed with anti-junta militia Chin Defence Force in Thantlang town, Chin State, destroying at least 20 homes and forcing majority of town’s 10,000 residents to flee, including several thousands across border into India; militia reported it had killed 30 govt troops. Throughout Sept, regime also stepped up raids and arrests of people allegedly involved in resistance activity in Yangon and elsewhere. Meanwhile, regime 6 Sept dropped sedition charge against nationalist monk Wirathu, detained for past ten months. SAC 21 Sept tried deposed State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for incitement; Suu Kyi pleaded not guilty, with trial set to continue in Oct. Internationally, Vice Senior General Soe Win 3 Sept held talks with Russian deputy defence minister focused on Russian plans to aid “military technology, education, health and various sectors”. Information Minister Maung Maung Ohn 9 Sept briefed foreign diplomats in Yangon on regime’s narrative of Feb coup, stating Tatmadaw had taken power according to constitution in response to “serious irregularities” in 2020 election. U.S. and China 13 Sept brokered agreement to defer decision on Myanmar’s UN representation until at least Oct-Nov; NUG-affiliated incumbent Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun retained UN credentials on condition he did not speak at high-level General Assembly debate.
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 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.
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.
The vast majority of people in Myanmar from all walks of life are opposed to the coup and angry at the regime’s violence against the population.
It’s hard to downplay the risks in [Myanmar,] a very ethnically diverse country populated with a variety of armed movements and armed actors.
There will inevitably be calls for UN sanctions [against Myanmar], but I don’t think China and Russia are ready to go that far.
Every year Crisis Group publishes two additional Watch List updates that complement its annual Watch List for the EU, most recently published in January 2021. These publications identify major crises and conflict situations where the European Union and its member states can generate stronger prospects for peace. The Spring Update of the Watch List 2021 includes entries on Bolivia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Ukraine and Yemen.
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.
Engineers, doctors and even exotic pet owners have come together in opposition to the military coup for what are now Myanmar’s widest protests in three decades. We asked Crisis Group’s senior adviser on Myanmar, Richard Horsey, to talk about what's happening and why.