Following allegations of election fraud, Myanmar's Tatmadaw military took control of the government in a coup d'état on Feb. 1, 2021. The country's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other prominent politicians were detained in the process, and have since been put under house arrest. Now thousands of people are taking part in street protests and strikes, calling for the release of Suu Kyi and for democracy to be restored. Prior to her leadership, Myanmar had been under military rule for nearly five decades.
The Tatmadaw military claim that the November 2020 election results (which saw Suu Kyi's party win the majority) were fraudulent and are using a clause in the constitution (Article 417) to reclaim power in a one-year state of emergency. But how exactly did the country get to this point? Here's everything you need to know about the developing situation in Myanmar.
Who Is Aung San Suu Kyi?
Although Aung San Suu Kyi is technically the State Counsellor of Myanmar, she is widely considered the country's leader. In November 2015, she led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a landslide victory, officially taking the country out of Tatmadaw rule.
Suu Kyi is a complex political figure. While she has previously been the recipient of a Noble Peace Prize for her efforts in leading a non-violent struggle for democracy in Myanmar, she has more recently been at the centre of a genocide lawsuit for the NLD’s treatment of the country’s Rohingya Muslim population.
What Is Currently Happening In Myanmar?
Protests & Deaths
Since the coup began in February, thousands have taken to the streets in protest, resulting in deadly confrontations with the military. The latest death toll suggests that, as of March 31, 510 civilians have died as a result of the military takeover – including 20 children. It’s reported that 141 people died on March 27 alone when heavy clashes erupted in the South Dagon district of Yangon.
However, the military has insisted the death toll is much lower and has branded the victims “violent terrorist people.”
One of the most publicised casualties was Kyal Sin, a 19-year-old protestor became a symbol of the movement after she was shot dead in Mandalay in early March while wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK.” It is widely believed that Sin was shot by security forces but Myanmar authorities denied this.
Aside from marches and physical demonstrations, opponents of the coup have stepped up their civil disobedience campaign by leaving rubbish at main traffic intersections. Pictures shared on social media show piles of rubbish piling up on the roads of Yangon, but the military have reportedly threatened deadly action if it continues.
In early March, it was reported that around 1,700 people had been detained by the military and that a number of raids have taken place on campaign leaders and opposition activists. The UN’s Human Rights Office said that, of those detained, at least 85 are medical professionals and students, and seven were journalists.
“Over 1,000 individuals have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in the last month – some of whom remain unaccounted for – mostly without any form of due process, simply for exercising their human rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly,” a spokesperson for the UN said. “We reiterate our call for the immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained, including members of the democratically elected government.”
However, on March 24, it was reported that 600 detainees had been released and sent home.
Air Strikes & Fleeing Across The Thai Border
On March 29, the Guardian reported that an estimated 3,000 had crossed from Myanmar into Thailand after air strikes began in areas populated predominantly by ethnic Karen people two days earlier.
The airstrikes began several hours after the the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) – who have voiced their support for the protestors – seized a military base, killing 10 soldiers and taking others captive, according to an online site with information about the Karen National Union (via the Guardian). The report stated that one Karen guerrilla had also died.
Activist groups have claimed that more than 2,000 of the people fleeing have been forced back into Myanmar, but Thai authorities have denied this, saying they accept refugees on a humanitarian basis.
What Happens Next?
On March 3, UN Special Envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgene revealed that, during conversations with Myanmar’s Deputy Military Chief Soe Win, he showed little concern about being isolated by other UN members.
“The [response] was: ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived,’” Schraner Burgene told reporters in New York. “When I also warned they will go (into) isolation, the answer was: ‘We have to learn to walk with only few friends.’”
On March 5, Schraner Burgene urged the UN Security Council to do more to halt the violence. Its members are currently negotiating a further statement on the crisis but diplomats have believe it’s unlikely that Russia and China will support sanctions on the military.
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