Written by: Garrett Halak
February 1st marks the one-year anniversary of the Myanmar military’s seizure of power and a prompt end to the country’s democratization process. The WIRe covered the inception of Tatmadaw’s rise to power in a previous article here. This coup d’etat occurred just prior to the second five-year term of Suu Kyi and The National League for Democracy. The Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw, regained power in an effort to halt democratization and utilized various dictatorial tactics to ward off anti-coup sentiment. Now, tensions have increased between the Tatmadaw and Burmese citizens causing a shift in the dynamic of civilian resistance from civil disobedience to civil war.
The people who are fighting the sitting military government are collectively known as the People’s Defence Force (PDF). This broad term collectively categorizes individual and local level militia movements across the country, which are mostly made up of young Burmese civilians.
The PDF is part of the National Unity Government of Myanmar, an underground government formed by various elected lawmakers and members of parliament who previously represented The National League for Democracy. This group has been widely responsible for the anti-junta movement which has fought against the Tatmadaw’s unrelenting intimidation.
The Acled (Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project) has been collecting advanced data about the number of deaths since the commencement of the military takeover. It is estimated that since February 1st, around 12,000 people have been killed in political violence. With the death toll increasing nearly every day, fatalities have shifted from being caused by nationwide crackdowns to civilian combat. This combat has remained fierce through the use of accessible resources like wood which can be converted into combat weapons like hunting rifles. These anti-coup forces have just weeks of training but remain successful through their sheer volume and determination.
In response to substantial resistance efforts, the Tatmadaw has utilized airstrikes and conducted bloody massacres on foot. Due to further revolutionary efforts, the military has begun to torch villages, displacing hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens. Despite efforts to diminish resistance, guerilla groups have remained fierce and persistent.
Myanmar Now conducted various interviews with significant figures within the resistance movement including Anthony Davis. Davis is a renowned analyst who has closely followed the Myanmar coup since it began. Davis emphasized the success of guerilla efforts as a result of the foundational popular support which aids in bolstering “any sustainable guerrilla campaign.” The Tatmadaw has begun to target combat groups by means of airstrikes. While many consider this a ‘last resort’ to retaliate against anti-coup resistance, Davis explained his perspective that, despite the belief that airstrikes are an indication of weakened power, he was confident that this was not the case. Rather, given rugged terrains of the borderland’s potential for guerilla conquest, Davis believes that the Tatmadaw is utilizing airpower as a source of “resupply, casualty evacuation, reconnaissance & surveillance and, of course, close air support, and air-mobile operations.” Anthony Davis’s stance is defended by other notable figures in the analysis of Myanmar’s political system and anti-coup movement like Damian Lilly. Lilly affirms the instability of Myanmar and reinforces the need for aid as a food crisis emerges and civilian displacement occurs.
Nevertheless, the conflict in Myanmar is far from resolved. International forces are unlikely to become involved despite the significant distress within the Southeast Asian nation. A few countries like the US, Australia, and Canada have aimed economic sanctions at the Tatmadaw, but these sanctions have been inadequate and effectively neglected. The coup has pushed Myanmar into a state of despair, far from its previous path towards democratization and strong economic growth. While protestors have called for assistance from the United Nations, a sluggish international community has not contributed any foreign aid. Myanmar’s historic instability and ceaseless changes of power have caused a lack of urgency within the international sphere.
With a lack of international support or involvement, Myanmar is likely to face more extreme and deadly combat. The regime has engendered such animosity that the Tatmadaw is unable to gain any substantial control, complemented by heightened civilian resistance. Unless major corporations and world powers strictly enforce sanctions, accompanied by arms suppliers cutting off Myanmar’s flow of goods, the Tatmadaw is likely to continue to respond to anti-coup aggressions with increasingly violent force.