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The Battle for Myanmar Six Months After the Coup

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FILE - Demonstrators carry flags and display the three-finger salute during a protest against Myanmar's army ruler Min Aung Hlaing on his birthday in Mandalay, Myanmar, July 3, 2021.

Myanmar has suffered more than half a year of unrest since the military seized power, removing the democratically elected government on February 1.

The National League for Democracy party (NLD) won a landslide victory in Myanmar’s general elections in November.

But after the military claimed unsubstantiated electoral fraud, it seized power and ousted the government. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint have been detained since, facing several charges.

FILE - Demonstrators protest against the military coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 6, 2021.
FILE - Demonstrators protest against the military coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 6, 2021.

Although the immediate reaction was quiet, a huge backlash was brewing. Sithu Maung, one of the NLD politicians detained at the time, knew a reaction was imminent.

“Gradually, there may be an uprising. There may also be a crackdown. The main one is the people do not accept the military coup at all,” he said on February 2.

His words were prophetic. Mass protests ensued, in what is locally now called the Spring Revolution. Street demonstrations have seen thousands of anti-coup demonstrators voicing their anger at the military’s takeover.

FILE - Anti-coup protesters hold up signs that read "Join in CDM (Civil Disobedience Movement)'' during a rally near the Mandalay Railway Station in Mandalay, Myanmar, Feb. 22, 2021.
FILE - Anti-coup protesters hold up signs that read "Join in CDM (Civil Disobedience Movement)'' during a rally near the Mandalay Railway Station in Mandalay, Myanmar, Feb. 22, 2021.

Efforts to stifle military-controlled operations also soon materialized. The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) began, a campaign that has seen thousands of professionals such as doctors, teachers, lawyers and engineers go on strike, refusing to work under military rule.

And according to Aung Thu Nyein a political analyst from Myanmar, the CDM campaign has been somewhat successful.

“The Spring Revolution is the largest popular movement in recent Myanmar’s history. Until now, the junta’s bureaucracy can’t perform well because of the CDM movement,” he said in an email to VOA.

The World Bank recently forecast Myanmar’s economy to decline by 18% as a result of the coup and the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

But the movement has not stopped the armed forces from taking a heavy-handed approach toward the resistance. Soldiers have been quick to open fire to suppress anti-coup demonstrations.

A health worker who treated injured protesters in a Yangon medical center described one March event that turned deadly.

“I can’t count, dead bodies are arriving. Some are dead on arrival. [It was a] bloody field that day,” she said.

One frontline doctor at a hospital in Yangon believes the military was shooting purposefully.

“Head shots are many. They aim to kill, not to threaten,” the doctor said.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), more than 900 people have been killed.

Thousands have also been arrested, accused of violating the country’s redefined 505(a) penal code, which makes it a crime to disturb government operations or make statements that could cause fear.

The incarcerated include several journalists, part of a military-led crackdown on the media. Five outlets saw their licenses suspended by the junta, including the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). With two of its journalists currently in prison, DVB’s editor, Aye Chan Naing, told VOA that being a journalist is a “ticket to arrest.”

American journalist Danny Fenster has been jailed since May 24, while Yuki Kitazumi, from Japan, has also spent time inside a Myanmar prison.

Speaking at an online event hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), Frontier Myanmar editor Thompson Chau said conditions for journalists working in Myanmar are not going to get any easier.

“For now, I think we’re heading into a very deep winter, and a very tough time for everyone,” he said.

Shortly after the coup, a shadow government was formed, including ousted politicians and leaders from ethnic groups. The National Unity Government (NUG) claims to be the legitimate government of the country, protected by the People’s Defense Force (PDF). The military deems both illegal.

But historically, uniting Myanmar has been a tricky task. Tension among ethnic groups is still present after years of conflict over autonomy and land disputes.

Myanmar pro-democracy activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi believes, despite past issues, the civilian government is the way forward, claiming the military coup has so far failed. Yet, it has sparked resistance to reset the country.

“The coup is clearly a wake-up moment. ... Within these six months, everything has changed. We’re talking about federalism, we’re talking about decentralization, we’re talking about voices from ethnic minorities,” she said.

The activist insists that all those in opposition are focused on two tasks, including resisting the military.

“We don’t really take into consideration the military junta because the military junta is already out of our political circle. We are trying to reshape and trying to build a new nation without the military junta and their ideologies,” she said.

FILE - Moe Thway, one of the activists who protested against a controversial copper mine project, gives thumbs-up sign from police truck as he leaves a township court with other activists on Nov. 22, 2013, in Yangon Myanmar.
FILE - Moe Thway, one of the activists who protested against a controversial copper mine project, gives thumbs-up sign from police truck as he leaves a township court with other activists on Nov. 22, 2013, in Yangon Myanmar.

But veteran activist Moe Thway, 40, warned there will be more fighting for power before anything is decided.

“It is very difficult for the people to expect something different in the short term. Now, most of the young people, they went into the jungle and join the PDF army, and some don’t go to the jungle and form their own small armed groups,” he told VOA.

General Min Aung Hlaing recently announced the State Administrative Council would be revamped as the country’s caretaker government. He added that the country’s state of emergency would be extended until August 2023 and promised new general elections.

Sai Nyunt Lwin, deputy chair of the Shan National League for Democracy, an ethnic opposition party, was skeptical.

“We do not have much trust in what he has said,” Sai Nyunt Lwin told VOA.

But after a recent high-level summit among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations addressing the issues in Myanmar, analyst Aung Thu Nyein looked for optimism.

“Neighboring countries, such as India, have been encouraging the junta to make a promise of a timeline for elections, then they can be convinced. Now, forming the caretaker government and two-year timeline for the elections, diplomacy may work. ASEAN envoys and international powers can say, 'Keep your promise and behave well during these two years,' ” he said.

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