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Sat 17 April 2021

Two months since the coup began, thousands have been detained and at least 550 have been killed – including more than 40 children – reports Tommy Walker

The violent crackdown imposed by Myanmar’s military continues to see bloodshed across the nation as pro-democracy protestors defiantly resist the junta Government after the coup on 1 February 2021.

Despite nationwide protests and international condemnation, the junta Government, officially the State Administrative Council (SAC), has continued a relentless assault on demonstrators.

According to the Assistance Association For Political Prisoners Burma (AAPPB) – a watchdog group formed by exile political prisoners now based in Thailand – thousands have been detained and at least 570 have been killed since the coup began. Included in the killings are 43 children according to the London-based International NGO Save the Children.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, gained independence in 1948 from Britain, but most of its modern history has been governed under military rule.

In 2015, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party won the country’s first open democratic election.

But in last November’s general elections, the Myanmar military contested the election results claiming, without evidence, widespread electoral fraud. On 1 February, the military removed the NLD Government, with leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint detained and additionally charged. 

Armoured vehicles and live ammunition have been deployed by the military to suppress protests, while martial law has been imposed across the country. The junta has implemented daily internet shutdowns for the sake of the country’s “stability”.

According to Moe Thway, a veteran pro-democracy activist in Myanmar, the resistance to the military takeover has a three-pronged approach and is continuing despite the growing dangers.

Anti-coup street demonstrations, largely led by students, have been regular with hundreds of thousands of people participating nationwide. The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) is a campaign that sees professionals including health workers, lawyers and teachers refusing to work under the military’s rule. And the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) is a committee representing the elected lawmakers of the ousted NLD party, who have also refused to recognise the military regime’s cabinet.

In addition to military resistance, there are reports of a new federal constitution being formed, which would directly challenge the military Government. The constitution promises to be made up of multi-ethnic and political groups in Myanmar that oppose the coup – that would eventually add its own federal union army. 

Thway said the new Government would likely lead to a “bigger civil war than before,” causing potential chaos.


On the Offensive

The conflict in Myanmar has been the world’s longest ongoing civil war, spanning more than seven decades. Since the country gained independence, there has been a series of insurgencies, largely down to ethnic-based hostilities. In 1988, the “8888” revolution saw at least 3,000 killed.

Myanmar communities came out in protest against the military coup in Taipei, Taiwan, 28 March 2021. Photo: Tommy Walker/Byline Times

The UN and international governments have regularly condemned the military for its brash takeover, including Britain, with the US going as far as sanctioning Myanmar military officials. In Britain, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan there have been anti-coup demonstrations, but so far international pressure has had little effect in halting the violence.

But Khin Ma Ma Myo, a military analyst and author, told Byline Times that anti-coup demonstrators are likely to go on the offensive eventually.

“People respond to the military coup with CDM and uprising. Due to my calculus, the movement would survive three months with limited use of force, and one month with severe use of force. After that, the underground movements would appear,” she told Byline Times in February.

A senior doctor at Myanmar’s Yangon General Hospital, who witnessed the country’s previous uprisings in 1988 and 2007, has described how the current violence implemented by the military is purposeful.

“In the other uprisings, they shoot them not aiming the head, neck or chest. Someone who was unlucky died on the spot or at the hospital, but now, their attack is like a military battle. They probably use the sniper. Headshots are many. This is different,” he told Byline Times. The doctor also echoed Khin Ma Ma Myo’s comments and believes there will be a different response from demonstrators soon enough.

“How long can the people stand the oppression and violence by the military? I’m worried if people will make [an] attack with [the next] available attack,” he added.

Myanmar communities came out in protest against the military coup in Taipei, Taiwan, 28 March 2021. Photo: Tommy Walker/Byline Times

The worst day to date was on 27 March 2021 during Myanmar’s “Armed Forces Day” – a public holiday to commemorate the army’s rebellion against Japanese occupation in 1945. The military commenced their annual parade in the country’s capital Naypyitaw, but out on the streets, Myanmar suffered its deadliest day to date of the coup, with more than 100 killed. 

The military has since pledged a one-month ceasefire on 31 March 2021, although the armed forces stopped short of exempting those who disrupt Government operations.

But Dave Eubanks, director of the humanitarian group Free Burma Rangers, has said there has been “no ceasefire” in Myanmar’s Karen state, home to one of the longest-running conflicts in the world.

“The main attacks are in the Karen state where the Burma army has sent more troops to attack on the ground,” he said.

With the death total rising and the military crackdown unabated, Myanmar is in a dire situation. International borders continue to be closed, and with regular internet shutdowns, it’s difficult to confirm the total amount of fatalities the country is facing.

But with the continued crackdown battling against a defiant resistance, the potential for a widespread civil war, possibly the biggest in Myanmar’s modern history, is a devastating possibility.

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