Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 344, 11 March 2021

Myanmar: The protests and the violence both escalates
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

In the news
On 7 March, a massive number of protestors joined the ‘general strike’ despite the night raids and detention of more than 41 people on 6 March.  18 labour organisations participated in the protest and called for the closing of shops, banks and factories. The military retaliated by opening fire and throwing tear gas, has killed three and injured many. On the same day, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper printed an announcement threatening “action” against anyone who directly or indirectly works for the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). It mentioned the committee to be illegal and had committed “high treason”.  

On 8 March, the Ministry of Information has revoked the publishing licence for 7Days News, Myanmar Now, Mizzima, DVB and Khit Thit Media. Apart from 7Days News the rest of the four newspapers have announced to continue their work independently.

On 8 March, the Chief Minister of Mizoram in India announced that his State will support the Myanmarese refugees with food and shelter. Since the end of February, several have escaped to the neighbouring countries of India and Thailand. To date, there are more than fifty refugees including eight police officials in the north-eastern states of India. Similarly, on 9 March, Thailand extended its support to the refugees who have escaped the crackdown.
Issues at large
First, fear becomes the tool for this government to sustain itself. Since the coup, on 1 February, the surge in violence has not assisted the government to control the protests all across the country. This government may have enforced itself, but is yet to gain legitimacy among the citizens and several sections of the international arena. The growing civil disobedience movement and the success of the general strikes despite the rampant violence make it evident. Several diplomats appointed by the government have resigned in defiance and all the NGOs across the countries have also refused to collaborate with the government. 

Second, the protests continue to gain momentum, even after a month of their inception. The ‘fear’ seems to not work and instead works as a catalyst for the protests. To date more than 60 people have been killed, more than thousands have been detained and two deaths have been recorded in detention. But these facts have not deterred the protestors, which has not only continued but have increased its dimension. On 7 March, unlike the previous weeks, most of the deaths happened not in Yangon or Mandalay but happened in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State. According to the Irrawaddy, more than 60 Police officers have joined the civil disobedience movement from all across the country except for the Rakhine state.

Third, history repeats itself, several escapes to the neighbouring countries. Similar to the 1988 and 2007 protests, the violent crackdown has forced several to escape to India and Thailand. In both countries, the shared ethnic linkages with the people have garnered sympathy and support for those who have sought refuge. The growing clampdown on the journalists and media houses may force them to shift their base to these countries as done previously before 2015.
In perspective
First, currently, the protests seem to escalate parallel to the violence. But given the atrocities the unilinear growth of the protests or the ‘spring revolution’ (as it has been renamed) in the coming months is questionable. As of now, violence acts as a trigger but the continuation of the same is doubtful.

Second, in the coming months, the growing refugee influx from Myanmar is going to be a chronic problem not only for India and Thailand but for the entire region. The number is going to increase rather than diminish in the coming years.  

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