By Barun Das Gupta
The army which overthrew the elected government in Myanmar and took over power on February 1 has not only gagged the voice of the opposition but effectively blanked out any news emanating from that country except those vetted by the junta. Since April, hardly any news about the situation prevailing in the country has come out in foreign newspapers.
Asian nations have been divided over their approach to the army-ruled country. Japan is unwilling to impose sanctions on Myanmar, fearing that the country will then tilt more to China, and that will be to Japan’s disadvantage. Japan happens to have the world’s fifth largest investment in Myanmar, amounting to $1.4 billion. On Myanmar, the policies of Japan and the United States are at variance. The US wants to pressurize the junta by drying up the flow of foreign investment in Myanmar.
The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on Myanmar on June 18. It sought to ostracize the ruling junta, demanding that it end the five-month old military takeover, stop killing its political opponents and set free the national leaders who have been incarcerated. The resolution also called for an arms embargo on Myanmar.
India abstained from voting on the resolution because, as the Indian representative explained, India’s views had not been reflected in the draft. India’s position was that to end the crisis, “a consultative and constructive approach involving the neighbouring countries” should be adopted. India alone did not abstain from voting. China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia also abstained.
India had its reasons for seeking to involve the regional powers in the effort to restore democracy. As The Diplomat commented: “Unless the international community can immediately act to contain the brutal, inhumane, and targeted acts of the military and security forces, Myanmar’s crisis is very likely to evolve into a regional one.” What makes a direct UN intervention in Myanmar very hard is the not-so-secret support China is giving the junta.
China has denied giving support to the junta but the Myanmar people don’t believe the Chinese. Chinese factories in Myanmar were set ablaze on March 15 by angry people protesting the army coup. In the clash 39 people were killed. The Chinese embassy in capital Nayapyidaw condemned the attacks but did utter a word of sympathy for the dead and the injured.
However, on the people’s side are the ethnic rebel groups. The Karen National Liberation Army and the Kachin Independence Army are among the armed insurgent groups who have either resumed or escalated their attacks on the Tatmadaw (the Myanmarese name for the army). Armed clashes with the forces of the junta are now mainly taking place in the relatively inaccessible ethnic minority dominated areas. The coup and the popular resistance against it have displaced 6,80,000 people, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
While taking over power in February, the army declared a one-year state of emergency. But it is hardly likely that the state of emergency will be lifted next January. More likely it will be extended or the army will go in for a loaded dice election in which the army’s preponderance will be ensured and the elected representatives of the people will have no play the second fiddle to the army.
As stated earlier, hard news has stopped emanating from Myanmar. But a report dated April 21 said that 739 people had been killed since the February coup and 3331 thrown behind the bars, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the dethroned National League for Democracy.
A release from the United States Institute of Peace in late March, summed up the situation in Myanmar thus: “The people of Myanmar have opposed military rule in the past but never like this: In the face of horrific brutality by a lawless regime, Burmese have risen up in an historic national movement of nonviolent resistance. Led by young women, the fractious country has united across ethnic, generational and class lines, weaponizing social norms and social media in a refusal to accept the generals’ February 1 seizure of power. The broad appeal and tactical creativity of the resisters have kept the movement in the streets — and the generals off balance.”
It is obvious that unarmed civil resistance will not be able to put an end to the ruthless army rule. For that it is necessary to impose stringent economic sanctions in the country so that the Tatmadaw is left with no alternative other than to hand back power to the elected representatives of the people. Once power is wielded by a popular civil government, effective steps will have to be taken so that the army does not dare again to stage yet another coup d’etat. That will be a challenging task for a civil government in a country which has become accustomed to being ruled by the military for more than half a century. (IPA Service)