Myanmar’s future completely uncertain one year after coup

Exactly one year ago, the generals in Myanmar couped their way to power. But because of the continuing nationwide resistance, they do not have control.

Myanmar | Over 30 burned bodies found

On 24. December, the Burmese military in Kayah State has committed a massacre of more than 30 civilians

Since the coup on 1. February 2021, thousands were killed, demonstrators, resistance fighters, officials, soldiers and civilians. However, reliable figures are hard to come by. According to the human rights organization Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), which takes a clear stance against the military regime, 1463 "heroes" have been killed killed in connection with the coup (as of 13.01.2022). The NGO "The Armed Conflict Location& Event Data Project" (ACLED) registered more than 11 in the past year based on newspaper articles, reports from NGOs and from social media.000 deaths. 1.6 million people have lost their jobs since the coup, according to a study released by the International Labor Organization (ILO) at the end of January this year. Nearly 350.000 people have become internally displaced, according to UN figures. More and more journalists are killed, imprisoned or leave the country.

Myanmar expert David Scott Mathieson summed up the situation in an interview with the online edition of The Irrawaddy, a monthly newspaper published in Burmese and English In my opinion, the current situation is the worst since Myanmar’s independence after World War II. Basically, the military has declared war on its own people."

A woman in Yangon carries a bag of rice on her head in February 2021

Feeding the people of Myanmar has become increasingly difficult since the pandemic and the coup

Multifaceted resistance

In contrast to past decades, when conflicts were primarily between the military, recruited mostly from the Bamar ethnic majority, and ethnic minorities, fierce fighting now occurs in Burma’s heartland as well, such as in the central Burmese state of Sagaing. Armed resistance has emerged after nationwide protests by hundreds of thousands have been largely unsuccessful.

The military succeeded in driving people off the streets with the use of massive force, but this tended to strengthen opposition to the military junta. Although there is no empirical research, observers agree that a clear majority of the population rejects military rule. This is also reflected in the fact that, according to military expert Anthony Davis, there are around 50 People’s Defense Forces throughout the country, PDF), some of whom, with the support of ethnic armed groups, have established attacks on military personnel, police officers, alleged or actual informants, and security facilities, and even engage in skirmishes with the army.

Members of the People's Defense Forces (PDF) in Karen State proudly display a tattoo of State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi and the three-finger salute that became a symbol of the protests in September 2021

Members of the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) proudly display a tattoo of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, and the three-finger salute that has become a symbol of the protests

In addition to the militias and the civil protest movement, the ethnic groups and their armies form a third force that has always been independent or. act in conflict with the central government. Some of them provide shelter and training to the military’s opponents, but insist on commanding the areas they control, according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group emerges. The report also notes that while many ethnic armed groups are hostile to the military, they do not openly support the opposition because the outcome of the conflict is uncertain.

Three scenarios

No one knows how the situation in the country will continue to develop. Three scenarios are conceivable: the military prevails, the opposition gains the upper hand, or the stalemate continues. None of the three scenarios means peace and development for Myanmar.

If the military were to prevail, regain control over large parts of the country except for some ethnic minority areas, and call elections as promised after the coup, there would still be deep rejection of the regime by a large part of the population. The military would have to rely permanently on repression and surveillance, and its position would not be consolidated for the foreseeable future. Under such conditions, economic and political development would be difficult.

If the National Unity Government (the executive branch), the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, decides to go back to the central government, there is a risk of further disintegration CRPH (the elected parliament) and its armed arm (the People’s Defense Forces, PDF), a first open question would be how the victors deal with the members of the military complex. The soldiers and their families, who number in the hundreds of thousands, would have to be integrated somehow. Otherwise, new militias and armed groups could emerge to continually destabilize the country.

Resistance fighters dressed in black stand in front of a Karen National Union (KNU) instructor in April 2021

The Karen National Union (KNU) trains recruits for the resistance forces. Not all ethnic minorities are so active in supporting the insurgency in the country

There is also the danger of further disintegration of the country. At no time since independence has the central government had control over the entire national territory. Since the coup, the first regions and ethnic minorities have been positioning themselves to further expand their autonomy, respectively. to become independent. The transition period after a collapse of the military and the establishment of a new system could be seen as an opportunity by some ethnic minorities.

Neither side strong enough

However, experts say military solution not likely in foreseeable future. People’s militias lack military equipment, strategy and coordination. At best, there is a rudimentary chain of command. The underground National Unity Government, which has yet to be recognized by any government in the world, has few financial resources. It also has bases in the Burma-Thai border area and Thailand, so it relies on the goodwill of ethnic minorities and the regime in Thailand, which also came to power in a military coup.

Burmese Army soldiers on patrol in northern Kachin State shortly after the coup

Burmese military has heavy weapons including tanks, helicopters and planes, but morale of troops is said to be batt.

The military, on the other hand, is struggling with the fact that almost the entire country is in turmoil and therefore cannot concentrate its forces. Troop morale is battered, according to military expert Davis. The military could also face recruitment problems in the medium term, not only among rank-and-file soldiers, but also among officers. The institution has become so hated that fewer and fewer people are willing to join the military (there is no conscription). On the other hand, unlike, say, the British or Japanese, the military, which is perceived by the opposition as an occupier, has nowhere to retreat to. So the fight is about the survival of the institution.

Humanitarian aid needed

The most likely scenario is therefore a continuing stalemate. This is also the conclusion of the International Crisis Group: "Neither the military nor the opposition will prevail in the foreseeable future; the resulting intensification of the conflict will have significant humanitarian consequences." In other words, neither side wins, but the entire country and its people lose.

One DW interlocutor in Yangon, who can’t be named for security reasons, believes the grueling war of attrition will eventually lead to negotiations, though hardly anyone can imagine it at the moment. When both sides realize they cannot win when the country has suffered a heavy toll of bloodshed and devastating economic damage, negotiations become imperative. Because the interviewee believes this is the only way to go, he hopes the parties will get around to it sooner rather than later. In the meantime, the country needs humanitarian aid above all else. This would allow the United Nations, Europe and the U.S. to make the most difference.

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