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.
Tatmadaw continued to struggle to contain acts of resistance amid intense fighting with civil defence groups and ethnic armed groups across country. Targeted assassinations of alleged supporters of junta increased in June, with several dozen people killed, including local administrators appointed by regime and alleged state informants; with security forces unable to stop killings, armed defence groups mobilised in support of military. Soldiers 22 June attacked resistance forces in downtown Mandalay, leaving several killed on both sides; regime next day intercepted large weapons shipment allegedly destined for Mandalay resistance. Meanwhile, People’s Defence Forces and other civilian militias continued to battle Tatmadaw nationwide. Chinland Defence Force (CDF) 6 June staged several deadly ambushes, claiming killing of up to 50 soldiers in Mindat township and 17 soldiers in Thantlang township. Clashes between junta and civilian militias continued in Sagaing Region; heaviest fighting took place in Kayah State, which led to looming humanitarian disaster. Local defence force and Tatmadaw 15 June agreed temporary ceasefire; 14-day ceasefire also struck between CDF and military from 20 June. In Kachin State and Sagaing Region, wave of fresh fighting between ethnic armed groups and Tatmadaw erupted during month. In far northern Kachin State, Kachin Independence Organisation 1 June fired mortars on Putao Airport. In Kayin State, ethnic armed groups and local defence force 1-2 June clashed together with Tatmadaw troops and members of Karen Border Guard Force near border town of Myawaddy; about 600 civilians fled into Thailand; Tatmadaw shell 2 June hit temporary refugee camp in Thailand, injuring two civilians and Thai soldier. During virtual press conference – which junta blocked by shutting down internet – National Unity Government 5 June presented Rohingya policy providing for equal rights for Rohingya and inviting Rohingya to join opposition to dictatorship. Junta 10 June announced corruption charges against deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior National League for Democracy figures; Suu Kyi 7 June appeared in court to face raft of charges. For first time since Feb military coup, delegation from regional organisation ASEAN 4-5 June visited country. G7 leaders 11-13 June condemned Feb coup.
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.
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.
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.
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.