By Girish Linganna
The world looked askance while Israeli airstrikes on crowded UN shelters in north Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp killed more than 80 Palestinians on Saturday as it prepared to expand its south offensive raising fears for hundreds of thousands of civilian refugees there…
Social media went berserk when Israeli air raids, also on Saturday, killed 50 Palestinians at the Al-Fakhoura school, run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), in the Jabalia refugee camp and another school in Tall az-Zaatar, also located in northern Gaza…
It escaped the world’s notice, however, when 11 people, eight of whom were children—all aged between seven and 11 years—were massacred in the remote village of Vuilu in the mountainous region of Chin State after a military jet bombed a school much closer home, in neighbouring Myanmar, midweek last week. Or, for that matter, when at least 29 civilians, including children, at a camp for internally displaced people near the town of Laiza in Kachin state of northern Myanmar near its Chinese border were slaughtered in a military raid in early October this year.
Myanmar, a South-East Asian nation of 54 million people, is currently embroiled in a civil war with numerous armed ethnic and pro-democracy factions fighting the military junta which threw an elected government out of power in a sudden coup in 2021. Chin State, close to the border with India opposite Zowkhathar in Mizoram, has been persistently holding out in resistance against the military junta, which has suffered a series of setbacks in attacks by the opposition forces across the country over the past three weeks and is relying heavily on air power to retaliate. Ethnic Chin insurgents recently captured the border town of Rikhawdar.
Elsewhere across the country, in recent weeks, the junta has faced fierce offensives from a three-pronged alliance of ethnic minority armed groups in Shan State, along the border with China, as well as allied pro-democracy fighters elsewhere, driving the army and police out of large areas along this stretch. The new offensive, codenamed Operation 1027, was launched in Shan State on October 27 under the Three Brotherhood Alliance, comprising the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Arakan Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army.
The striking success of an alliance of three ethnic armed groups in Shan State has emboldened other opposition forces around Myanmar. Myanmar’s military regime has admitted to facing “heavy assaults” by anti-coup forces that began a coordinated offensive at the end of last month, claiming to have taken control of several border towns and dozens of army outposts. The military has also lost control over much of the country’s Indian border.
The government has admitted that its troops are facing heavy assaults from armed rebel forces in Kayah State in the east, Rakhine State in the west and, especially, Shan State in the north, with pro-democracy fighters deploying “hundreds of drones” to drop bombs on military posts. The military-backed president of Myanmar, Win Myint, has warned that the country faces a real and potent danger of breaking apart if the government cannot tighten its reins over the conflict in Shan State.
Again, in a vein similar to the Israel-Hamas conflict, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed serious concern over the escalating violence in Myanmar, where close to two million people have been displaced by the recent fighting and at least 75 civilians, including children, have been killed. Guterres has appealed to all sides to protect non-fighters and civilians and allow access for humanitarian aid to enter.
Myanmar has been plunged into chaos and violence since the military, known as the Tatmadaw, staged a coup d’état on February 1, 2021, and seized power from the democratically elected government of civilian leader Aung San SuuKyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
The coup marked the climax of a decade-long power struggle between the military and the civilian government, which had been sharing power under a constitution drafted by the military in 2008. This constitution granted the military a quarter of parliamentary seats, key ministry control, a veto over constitutional amendments, and barred Suu Kyi from becoming president due to her foreign family ties.
The military junta had alleged widespread fraud in the November 2020 general election to justify the coup. However, their claims were denied by the election commission and international observers who deemed the election free and fair. The international community condemned the coup, imposing sanctions on the military and urging key allies like China and Russia to help end the crisis.
In response to the coup, the people of Myanmar launched a massive uprising, demanding the return of their elected government and the respect of their human rights. Representing a diverse array of society—including ethnic minorities, women, youths and civil servants—protesters employed creative and peaceful methods to voice their dissent. However, the military responded with brutal force, intensifying the unrest and violating human rights.
The military junta used lethal and non-lethal force to disperse the crowds, resulting in a significant loss of lives. Thousands—including children, journalists, doctors, teachers and politicians—were detained, tortured and killed. The military also targeted ethnic armed organizations, leading to airstrikes, ground attacks and widespread displacement, creating a humanitarian crisis.
Despite the brutality, the resistance movement persists. The ousted lawmakers and representatives of various groups formed a parallel government called the National Unity Government (NUG). Determined to overthrow the junta and establish a federal democracy, they established a guerrilla army, the People’s Defence Force (PDF), to combat the military’s repression. The NUG seeks international recognition and support to protect the people of Myanmar and restore the peace.
While Myanmar experiences turmoil, the persecution of the Rohingya ethnic minority, mainly Muslims, continues. Primarily residing in Rakhine State, the Rohingyas have faced discrimination, denial of citizenship and restrictions on their basic rights. Violence and military crackdowns have forced many Rohingyas to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, with a significant number seeking safety in Bangladesh and in India—mainly in Assam and West Bengal.
China, one of Myanmar’s main allies, has been closely involved in the country’s political landscape. Despite its public calls for stability, China has faced criticism for its reluctance to condemn the coup and for its continued engagements with the military junta. Some speculate that China’s motivations are rooted in its economic and strategic interests in Myanmar, including access to resources, infrastructure projects and control over key trade routes. China’s support for the coup has strained its relationships with pro-democracy actors and the international community, who view its stance as enabling the military’s repression.
India, last week, came to the unexpected aid of the Myanmarese military when it gave permission to 46 of its soldiers to enter Mizoram. The soldiers were trying to escape from pro-democracy fighters in Chin State who had overrun their camps beyond the Mizoram border. This was, perhaps, the first time that India has rescued soldiers of another country’s army fleeing fighting on their own soil, indicating New Delhi’s increasing willingness to collaborate with the military regime in Myanmar to protect its own national interests.
As Myanmar’s neighbour, India has expressed concerns about the crisis and its implications for regional stability. India has called for a peaceful resolution, the restoration of democracy and an end to the violence in Myanmar. The influx of refugees into India’s northeastern and eastern states has put immense pressure on local resources and infrastructure, necessitating humanitarian assistance. The bitter impact of the Myanmar coup has been felt in India as over 40,000 Chin refugees from Myanmar have sheltered in Mizoram since the February 2021 coup.
Additionally, the disruption of trade and economic ties between India and Myanmar has affected cross-border business activities and investments. India’s concerns over the crisis extend beyond its immediate borders and emphasize the importance of preserving peace and democratic governance in the region.
The crisis in Myanmar encompasses multiple dimensions, including ongoing unrest, repression, the plight of the Rohingya minority and the interventions of regional power China. The international community, including India, must work together to address these challenges, restore democracy and ensure the protection of human rights in Myanmar. Attention must be given to the plight of the Rohingyas, with efforts aimed at ending their persecution and securing their rights and safety. By addressing these issues collectively, there is hope for a peaceful and stable future for Myanmar and the region. (IPA Service)
(The author is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru.)