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.
Security forces continued brutal crackdown on anti-coup protesters and civilians, escalating their counter-insurgency practices, as resistance groups launched sporadic deadly attacks on military. Pro-democracy protesters demanding end to military rule continued rallies nationwide, notably in Yangon, Mandalay and many other towns and cities; police and military responded with deadly force, including by opening fire on protesters; death toll of security crackdown since 1 Feb surpassed 750 people. In major attack, military 9 April assaulted multiple protest camps in Bago town, using for first time mortars and rifle grenades, killing at least 80 civilians. Resistance groups in several parts of country targeted military convoys, as well as ward and village-tractgeneral administration offices. Notably, resistance forces 9 April ambushed military convoy in Tamu, Sagaing region, killing three soldiers; in Chin State, resistance fighters 27 April killed at least 16 soldiers in fighting in Mindat town. State media 9 April announced that military tribunal in North Okkalapa had sentenced to death 19 protesters who allegedly attacked military in March. Opponents of junta 16 April announced creation of National Unity Government. In northern Shan State, military 7-8 April met with leaders of armed groups United Wa State Army and Shan State Progress Party in effort to bolster ceasefires. In Kachin State, Kachin Independence Army (KIA) 8 April ambushed military convoy in rural part of Mogaung township; military same day fired artillery at Laiza town, headquarters of KIA and its civilian wing. Militants associated with Three Brotherhood Alliance (consisting of Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army) 10 April attacked police station outside of Lashio, killing at least 14 policemen, making it first attack since late March decision to re-evaluate unilateral ceasefire. Unidentified attackers 27 April fired rockets at military bases in country’s centre. International pressure continued. UK 1 April imposed sanctions on conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation; EU 19 April imposed sanctions on junta; U.S. 21 April added two state-owned enterprises to sanctions list. Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing 25 April attended summit of regional bloc ASEAN, agreeing five-point statement calling for cessation of violence and dialogue.
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.
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.
[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.
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.