Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 335, 4 March 2021

Myanmar: 18 dead as security forces open fire to suppress pro-democracy protests 
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

In the news
On 28 February, according to the United Nations, Myanmar's security force killed 18 and injured 30 in their attempt to clampdown the protest. 

On 27 February, the government removed Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations for his speech in the General Assembly where he had sought international assistance to restore democracy.

On 2 March, in a video conference court hearing, there were two more new charges against Aung San Suu Kyi. These charges will extend Suu Kyi’s prison term to a total of nine years. Also, the former President and former mayor of Nay Pyi Taw were charged with breaching Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code.

On 3 March, the ASEAN foreign ministers concluded a virtual meeting on Myanmar. Brunei, the ASEAN chair, officially stated: “We express ASEAN’s readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner.”

On 3 March, the United Nations stated more than 38 people were killed by Myanmar's security force. These attack have been vehemently condemned by the UN, Japan, Canada and the EU.

Issues at large
First, the increase in violence as a new strategy by the military. The pro-democracy protests did not witness an immediate retaliation; there was no use of force during the first week. Since the second week, reprisal by the security forces in the form of firing live bullets, attacks on the protestors by pro-regime monks, and goon attacks on civilians, started. The larger purpose of these attacks is to create fear and suppress any kind of antagonism against the new government.

Second, the growing anger across the country against the regime. The killings and the attack by the military have failed to suppress the protest. On the contrary, the repression has fuelled public anger. The protests are not limited to a few cities; it has spread across Myanmar including the areas controlled by the ethnic armed groups. The pro-democracy protests are demographically and ethnically diverse and also includes minority religious communities. 

Third, the new legal cases aimed at silencing democratic leadership and dissent. Since the detention of the Suu Kyi and the former President, there have been three to four charges against them. The lack of fair trial and the nature of the charges are aimed at extending their imprisonment. Apart from Suu Kyi and the President, several other higher rank NLD leaders also face similar absurd charges. Journalists, students, activists and artists amounting to more than thousands have been detained.

In perspective
First, the increasing charges against the NLD leaders seem to be a part of the larger preparation for the promised election next year. The election promised by General Hlaing will ensure the return of USDP. Hence it is essential to curtail any opposition that would challenge that strategy.

Second, the protests seem to continue and also inspiring the pro-democracy protests in Thailand. The pro-democracy movement started in Thailand in 2020 got subdued due to the COVID-19. However, on 28 February the protests seem to have resurged, inspired by developments in Myanmar.

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