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Myanmar: Conflict Continues as Spring Revolution Unfolds

Ziryan Aziz reports on the conflict in Myanmar, and why protestors are calling for a Spring Revolution.

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Photo by Domi Chung

Violent unrest in Myanmar continues as protestors and the military clash across the country, following a military takeover on 1st February. Protestors have called for a ‘Spring Revolution’ against the military, demanding a return to democracy.

They have been met with deadly force at the hands of the military and police during both peaceful protests and riots. Over 700 people are believed to have been killed, with thousands more injured, arrested, and tortured.

Why are People Protesting?

On the 1st of February 2021, Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup d’état, ending almost 10 years of democratic rule. Broadcast live on state media, a state of emergency was declared by the military – known as the Tatmadaw – who cited the 2008 constitution, which grants the military certain powers under the law.

The Tatmadaw ruled Myanmar (formally Burma) directly from 1962 to 1974 and then backed a one-party dictatorship up until 1988 before the Junta was dissolved in 2011 following civilian elections. The military has upheld that the coup was in reaction to alleged election fraud after civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won 83% of parliamentary seats in the November 2020 elections.

Since the beginning of February, Aung San Suu Kyi has been placed under arrest and is facing possible imprisonment, on charges her lawyer calls “groundless”. She is Myanmar’s first democratically elected leader since the military coup in 1962. Although she is popular in Myanmar, she is controversial abroad for her role in the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic group.

The military had at first gone to the supreme court, seeking to overturn the election results. However, when the courts ruled the elections fair, the military responded by surrounding government buildings with soldiers and arresting government officials. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who is now the most senior member of the military government, has asserted that emergency powers will last for one year, though no dates for future elections have yet been released.

A Timeline of Events

The initial first weeks after the 1st February coup saw large peaceful protests across the country. However, on the 20th February two unarmed protestors were killed, one being shot in the head, in the country’s second-largest city Mandalay.

On the 22nd of February, the country was gripped by a nationwide strike. The strike saw millions take to the streets in protests, with banking and services across the country ground to a halt. This was swiftly condemned by Myanmar’s military leaders who threatened further ‘loss of life’ for those who attended the protests.

Protests continued into March, and the number of civilian fatalities increased. On the 27th of March, over 90 people across Myanmar were shot dead, the bloodiest day since protests began. The youngest victim was only 5 years old. Public and international anger was heightened when widely shared images on social media showed military leaders, who had been attending Armed Forces Day parades, celebrating with foreign dignitaries.

According to the group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) By the end of March the death toll had risen to over 500, further increasing to 765 by early May.

Protestors Preparing to Fight

Much like in Hong Kong and Thailand, the street protestors in Myanmar have adopted techniques and tactics to better coordinate their activities. For example, protestors in towns and neighbourhoods stand on night watch, alerting people to any military and police who have come to make arrests. During the day, flash mob protests erupt in cities and towns across the country. When met by a police / army presence, protestors retreat into practiced formations, using gas masks and makeshift shields to repel smoke and tear gas grenades.

Where the differences lie from other regional protests, is the extent to which further armed violence is becoming a possibility. Some protestors – most of whom are students – are turning to military training in the jungle, learning guerrilla warfare tactics. The groups providing the training are ethnic rebels who operate in the borderlands of Myanmar. These groups, which fight for greater autonomy in their provinces, are known to clash violently with the government. Armed groups like the Karen National Union (KNU) have launched a series of attacks against the military government since February 1st.

The National Unity Government, composed of civilian and political rivals of the military, who have since gone into hiding, has called for the establishment of a makeshift ‘federal army’ to fight the military.

The International Reaction

International condemnation has been widespread, with western countries like the United States and the European union block condemning and sanctioning military leaders. António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, condemned the military and called for its leaders “to respect the will of the people of Myanmar and adhere to democratic norms”.

Neighbouring Asian countries, who normally refrain from criticising each other’s internal affairs, have also spoken out. Leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have condemned the use of violence, and the Brunei chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been called to host an urgent meeting.

China, which is a big investor and ally of the country, vetoed a joint condemnation of the coup at the United Nations Security Council. The country’s foreign ministry spokesman stated, on February 22nd, “we hope that all parties will properly handle their differences under the Constitution and legal framework to maintain political and social stability,”.

With new and increasing violence between rebel groups and the military, and a generation of youth ready to fight for their democracy, the country’s future is looking more uncertain than ever – but the call for a Spring Revolution may soon become a reality.


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