Is Myanmar heading for civil war again?

Jehangir Hussain | Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Myanmar seems to be sliding towards a civil war over again, after tasting a sort of military- guided democracy. The reclusive nation's democracy leader is already caged and being punished on a plethora of charges.

On December 6, Aung San Suu Kyi was handed down a prison sentence by a court loyal to Myanmar's latest military junta.

Until February 2021, Suu Kyi was the de facto civilian leader of Myanmar. Her party, the National League for Democracy, had just been re-elected with a landslide victory - the results were rejected by the military in a latest coup.

Of course she had ruled under the shadow of military hegemony in the interregnum. Despite her international clout, Suu Kyi did not oppose the systematic ethnic cleansing against the Rohingiya, and millions of them were forced to flee to Bangladesh in one of world's worst refugee crises.

The military junta began violently suppressing escalating dissent, prompting the UN's human- rights chief to warn that Myanmar may be sliding into a civil war. The country  is facing an alarming possibility of escalating civil war as an uprising against the military junta has widened, Michelle Bachelet has warned.

She informed the UN Human Rights Council that time was running out for other countries to step up efforts to restore democracy in Myanmar and prevent broader conflicts.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since February when Suu Kyi's government was ousted by the military, sparking a nationwide uprising that the junta is trying to crush. Attacks on troops have increased since lawmakers ousted by the generals called for a 'people's defensive war'.

Michelle said the human rights situation had deteriorated as the coup devastated  lives and hopes across Myanmar.'Conflict, poverty and the effects of the pandemic are sharply increasing, and the country faces a vortex of repression, violence and economic collapse,' she said.

Faced with the 'overwhelming repression of fundamental rights, an armed resistance movement is raging.

'These disturbing trends suggest the alarming possibility of an escalating civil war,' she informed the UN Human Rights Council.

She requested countries to support a political process that would engage all parties, saying the ASEAN regional bloc and influential powers should use incentives and disincentives 'to reverse the military coup and desperate spiral of violence'.

'Myanmar's stability and path to democracy and prosperity have been sacrificed over these last months to advance the ambitions of a privileged and entrenched military elite,' she said.'The national consequences are terrible and tragic -- the regional consequences could also be profound. The international community must redouble its efforts to restore democracy and prevent wider conflict before it is too late.'

A former president of Chile, Michelle informed the council that more than 1,100 people had now reportedly died at the hands of the security forces since the coup, while over 8,000 others, including children, had been arrested and more than 4,700 detained.

The chief of the UN rights body urged all parties -- but especially the military -- to allow unrestricted access to humanitarian aid, and called for the immediate release of all political prisoners. She urged the military junta to protect civilians and immediately stop the use of air strikes and artillery in residential areas.

Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, who has refused to leave his post despite being fired after the February coup, has alerted the world body about 'reported massacre' by the military rulers.

In a letter, Kyaw informed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that bodies of dead had been found in Kani township in July in the Sagaing area of northwestern Myanmar. The junta has denied the massacre while journalists were unable to independently verify the reports as mobile networks were jammed.

The ambassador wrote that soldiers tortured and killed people in a village in the Kanti township around July 9 and 10, after which 10,000 residents fled the area.He said that more bodies were discovered in the days following clashes between local fighters and security forces on July 26. More people, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed and set on fire in another village on July 28.

In the letter, the ambassador repeated his call for a global arms embargo on the ruling junta and 'urgent humanitarian intervention' from the international community.

'We cannot let the military keep on doing this kind of atrocity in Myanmar,' Kyaw Moe Tun told AFP.'It is time for the UN, especially the U N Security Council, to take action.'

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army ousted the civilian leadership on February 1, launching a crackdown on dissent that has killed more than 900 people, according to a local monitoring group.

Kyaw Moe Tun has passionately rejected the coup and brushed aside the junta's claims that he no longer represents Myanmar. The United Nations still considers him as the rightful envoy.

The ambassador was sacked by the junta in February a day after he gave a three-finger salute at the UN General Assembly following an impassioned speech calling for the return to civilian rule.

The 'Hunger Games' gesture was widely used by pro-democracy demonstrators.

Kyaw Moe Tun, who has repeatedly called for international intervention to help end unrest in Myanmar, said Wednesday US authorities had boosted his security after an apparent threat was made against him.'There was a reported threat against me,' he told the news agency.'The police and the security authorities here in New York are working on it.'

Myanmar's junta chief said on Sunday elections would be held and a state of emergency lifted by August 2023, extending the military's initial one-year timeline announced days after the takeover.

Myanmar, formerly Burma, is the largest country in Southeast Asia, with a population of about 54 million as of 2017. It is bordered by Bangladesh and India to its northwest, China to its northeast, Laos and Thailand to its east and southeast, and the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal to its south and southwest.

Since 1948 when Burma, now Myanmar, won independence, the country been engrossed in rampant ethnic strife with  its many ethnic groups  involved in one of the world's longest-running civil war. Myanmar was under British colonial rule from 1824 to 1948.

The United Nations reported consistent and systemic human rights violations in the country.

Myanmar had been under martial law since 1962, when General New Win imposed military rule and ordered troops to demolish Rangoon University.

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