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.
An unofficial ceasefire has kept Rakhine State quiet compared to much of Myanmar following the 2021 coup. But friction is building between the military and ethnic Rakhine fighters. The parties should strike a formal deal to avert a return to war.
Regime announced plans for first judicial executions in decades, fighting continued in Sagaing region amid reports of serious abuses at hands of Tatmadaw, and tensions ran high in Chin State. Tatmadaw 3 June confirmed regime would execute four people, including National League for Democracy legislator Phyo Zeyar Thaw and 88 Generation leader Kyaw Min Yu, for their involvement in armed resistance movement in Yangon city, in what would be first judicial execution since 1988. Decision sparked domestic and international outcry: Cambodia 10 June warned executions would undermine South East Asia regional bloc ASEAN and Cambodian efforts to end crisis; regime 6 June rejected criticism from France, UN and U.S. In Sagaing region (centre), regime forces appeared to carry out serious abuses targeting civilians amid ongoing fighting with local people’s defence forces (PDFs). Notably, PDF in Kani township 4 June found four bodies allegedly killed by military 31 May and next day found two bodies apparently tortured before being shot; charred remains of 78-year-old woman found 4 June in Khin-U township after military torched 70 homes. Soldiers 6 June reportedly massacred civilians in Kanphyar village, Myinmu township, killing at least five. Resistance force in Gangaw township 4 June attacked 100-vehicle military convoy, claiming at least ten military casualties and sparking retributive attacks. In Chin State (west), tensions between military and Arakan Army (AA) remained high following late May clashes, with both sides detaining each other’s personnel. Regime soldiers 1 June allegedly fired mortars at displacement camps near neighbouring Kyauktaw township. AA 11 June detained two soldiers in Kyauktaw township, triggering search by military. In central Shan State (east), Shan State Progress Party 4 June rejected military’s ultimatum to withdraw from three outposts in Mong Hsu township. As part of peace initiative, regime early June met two major ethnic armed groups linked to China, United Wa State Army and National Democratic Alliance Army; regime also met signatories of 2015 ceasefire – Arakan Liberation Party, Pao National Liberation Organisation, Karen Peace Council and Democratic Karen Benevolent Army later in month. Defence Minister Mya Tun Oo 22 June attended ASEAN defence ministers’ meeting despite calls from many civil society groups to exclude regime.
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.
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.
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.