Myanmar’s military runs amok causing mayhem and death in its wake
The Climax May Be Days And Not Weeks Away
Myanmar’s security forces are continuing to run amok in the country’s cities with impunity. They are indiscriminately shooting – now with live ammunition -- leaving scores of dead in their wake.
“Today was a very, very sad day for me,” Sakura – a young advertising executive told me after she had just returned from participating in the protest. “Seeing the dead hurts so much, I cannot speak.”
According to local groups monitoring the situation, nearly twenty protesters have lost their lives across the country till Wednesday as the security forces ramped up their efforts to repress the non-violent uprising demanding that the coup leaders return democracy to the country.
Soldiers now have openly joined the police in what is obviously an intensified crackdown on the peaceful protests. They are ruthlessly dealing with the protestors in cities across the country. In Mandalay and Yangon, the army has deployed snipers, and at least six of the deaths were the result of sniper-fire. “The army has declared war on our citizens, they will shoot us to win,” Sakura said.
“They’re turning the country into a massive battlefield,” Zaw Naing, a local Myanmar businessman told SAM.
Police and soldiers are continuing their draconian sweep – that was ramped up in the weekend -- against the civil disobedience campaign that has brought the country to a standstill since the coup more than a month ago. While the security forces rampage through most cities throughout the country, the activists are shouting for international help.
The crackdown started in the weekend, and has continued to escalate ever since. Wednesday, the 3rd of March, was clearly another major turning point for the security forces as they seem to have been completely let off the leash with dire consequences. The military have been progressively ratcheting up their response.
Regional military analysts believe that Myanmar’s security forces have been relatively restrained till now, compared to their past practices including the crushing of the 1988 democratic uprising. But that has clearly changed, with military sources saying that the Deputy Commander-in-Chief General Soe Win has taken over operational control of the army’s response to the protests.
He is known to be a hardliner in the present crisis, and is regarded by the officers and rank and file as a ‘soldiers’ soldier’. The fear has always been that the closer it gets to March 27, Armed Forces Day – the premium anniversary celebrations for the military – the more likely it is that the army will get tougher. They will not be able to tolerate the continued civil disobedience campaign nor protests on the street on their sacred anniversary.
The continued crackdown has left most people shocked and dismayed, but it only served to harden the battle lines, Zaw Naing reflected. “It’s hard to express our feelings – sad and despair,” he said, obviously upset. “The pain is with everyone. But we are helpless and paralyzed.”
In response to the shooting of unarmed civilians, Myanmar’s special envoy to the UN – representing the elected MPs -- called on the international community to bring the authorities to justice for ‘crimes against humanity’.
“It’s time for the international community to act to protect our innocent, defenseless people,” Dr Sa Sa told SAM in an interview.
Now the security forces have also stepped up their arrests of civilians – trying to force civil servants back to work and detaining protest leaders and prominent activists. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group, more than 1,200 people have been arrested since the coup began on 1 February, with about 900 still behind bars or facing charges.
But the real number is likely to be far higher – the state-run media reported that on Sunday alone more than 1,300 people were arrested. Civil society activists put the number the number at over a thousand.
Many people in Myanmar and especially Yangon – particularly local and foreign businessmen -- are complaining that the junta is terrorizing its civilians. “It’s a total war zone,” Walter Khun, a Myanmar citizen and founding partner with C&A financial advisors based in Yangon told SAM. “Our associates throughout the country are reporting the same: junta troops terrorizing civilians.”
Social media are full of pictures of those killed, those injured being carried to safety, and the vicious beating of anyone who annoys the security forces. The worst case on Wednesday that caught everyone’s attention was a violent, unprovoked attack by the police on three medics sitting by their ambulance in northern Yangon – part of the charity free ambulance service. They were viciously kicked and beaten in the head and legs with rifle butts. The ambulance was then vandalized.
The security forces have put up barricades across strategic roads and thoroughfares to prevent protestors fleeing from one part of the city to another. As of Tuesday, the authorities have ordered all of Yangon’s major shopping Junction, Capital and Myanmar Plaza, to close indefinitely. Many big supermarkets are also closed. This is obviously part of the security forces’ dispersal strategy to prevent protestors taking refuge inside shopping complexes when the police charge.
Meanwhile, local community neighborhood watch teams have also cordoned off areas in the city townships, built their own makeshift barriers and mounted 24-hour guard, to prevent the police venturing into their townships. Ordinary citizens surround police trucks with detainees, loudly banging pots and pans to dissuade the police from taking them.
“It’s truly a combat zone all over the country,” said Nyein Chan Aung a veteran activist from 1988.
“I am very sad, and filled with grief for those who have died already in the struggle,” said Sakura – a young advertising professional who has given up her job to join the protests every day. “But we’re fighting for freedom and democracy – we are fighting for our future – we are fighting for our children’s future: we will fight to the end, we will never give up,” she told SAM.
On the surface the protests seem to be leaderless and an expression of the aspirations of the young – and the country as a whole – for genuine democracy, changing the constitution and introducing a truly federal democratic state. Most of the protestors on the street are under the age of 30. But the civil disobedience movement encompasses much more than the street campaigners.
The civil servants – the doctors, nurses and health workers who initiated this campaign four weeks ago – are still on strike despite the junta’s threats and intimidation, according to a young doctor heavily involved in the movement in Mandalay.
“Most young doctors are still on strike,” Dr Aung Aung Oo told SAM. “They are serious about protecting democracy, and have vowed not to stop till the coup commander is defeated and the culture of coups eradicated forever.”
While the movement is largely galvanized around Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy, the campaign is much broader than that, as the anti-military sentiment is overwhelming.
“This is not just about Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD – though we believe the election results should be respected,” activist Myo Win and executive director at Smile Education and Development Foundation told SAM. “It’s much broader: it’s about completing the transition to democracy, ripping up the 2008 constitution and replacing it with a democratic, federal state, and ending military dictatorships forever.”
Despite the current crackdown, protests are set to continue – and even if the numbers on the streets diminish – the movement is having a dire effect on the junta’s ability to rule. The strikes and civil disobedience movement is having a devastating effect on the country: banks are closed, government offices are empty and the country’s fuel supplies are running dangerously low. Hospitals, universities and schools are mostly closed, and most factories have also been idle for the last four months. The country is virtually at a standstill.
“We must continue to remind the army that we are not giving up, we are not going away, and we will continue to frustrate their efforts to run the country at every turn,” said Dr Sa Sa. But he said it must remain non-violent: the way of non-violence is our weapon.
“We are a non-violent movement, our weapons are our voice, our mobile phones and social media,” Dr Sa Sa insisted. “It’s the army that is committing crimes.
While international condemnation has been swift and strong, the protestors are demanding immediate international intervention.
“The UN is watching, the US is watching, the whole world is watching but when will they act? We need international intervention based on the Right to Protect” R2P,” said another young professional Thiri Kyaw Nyo. “They must act soon otherwise there will be more bloodshed in the coming weeks.”
Analysts, commentators and diplomats who know Myanmar fear that more bloodshed is almost inevitable. The confrontation between the military and the protest movement is not going to lessen. And at this stage there seems no possibility of a dialogue or even mediation to try to resolve the conflict. But while both sides remain on a collision course, the climax may only be days away rather than weeks.
But the campaigners are equally determined to continue irrespective of what the security forces throw at them. “This is about our future,” said Ma Myint. “Our future is being taken away from us … we feel like that: we do not want to go back to the darkness. We were looking forward to a brighter future, now suddenly its gone dark.”
[For regular updates and analysis on the situation in Myanmar check out Larry Jagan’s Blog at https://www.larryjagan.com]