The junta must understand that forcible occupation of a land has its pitfalls. The international community is not as politically invested in Myanmar as it ought to be, but the civil society is closely monitoring the Myanmarese atrocities, the killing of innocent children and the vulnerable.
As if the barbarity and ferocity of violence was not enough, the military junta which has usurped power since February 2021 has launched a fresh spate of offensives on civilians and the opposition to squelch dissent and throttle any alternate voices of protest against its inhuman reign. In its deadliest assault the junta bombed civilian areas in the Sagaing region mindlessly reportedly killing children too. Violence has always been accompanied by looting, shoot at sight orders, indiscriminate heavy-handed killings, rapes, mass murders etc. Then what is so new about this violence?
Post-coup crackdown has been “carried out in front of thousands of phones and cameras” enabling the real-time documentation of extreme violence committed by the authorities, said Richard Weir, a Human Rights Watch researcher previously based in Myanmar. This devastating attack on civilians is part of the military’s strategy to dismember civilians and stop humanitarian assistance to displaced populations. This strategy is already in sync with the policy of committing abuses and extreme violence in its ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims in 2017. The campaign started the largest refugee crisis in international history.
Manifold reasons escalated violence in the last few days. Opposition’s ability to get sway over large swathes of land and their ability to get popular support have not gone down well with the junta. It’s a bitter pill to digest too that armed resistance of government-backed militia is spreading fast. For instance, the resistance groups like Albino Tigers have frequently carried out attacks on the junta. However, the most difficult part of the battle against the junta is the lacunae of resources, foreign aid and weapons to fight an indefatigable enemy.
Brutal attack on civilians
In recent series of attacks, airstrikes by the junta have remarkably increased. With civilians attacked, maimed, mutilated in Pa Zi Gyi, a large village not to far from Mandalay, this has been described by human rights activists as no less than a war crime. The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), established by the United Nations to collect evidence of serious violations of international law in Myanmar, has tracked a marked increase in the use of bombs against civilians over the past year, said chief investigator Nicholas Koumjian, who is based in Geneva. Koumjian said his team has evidence that suggests the military has targeted locations where it knows or should have known there were large number of civilians. What happened at Pa Zi Gyi “is an example of an indiscriminate attack that disproportionately affected civilians,” Koumjian said. “In other words, a war crime.” (“Myanmar’s military said it bombed ‘terrorists.’ It killed children,” The Washinton Post, Rebecca Tan and Cape Diamond, August 4, 2023. URL: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/08/04/myanmar-military-attack-civilians-children/)
In April, in one of the deadliest assaults, Myanmar military made an airstrike in which at least 25 children killed of whom som were reportedly as young as 10 months old. Weapons experts at Human Rights Watch said that based on photos of the attack, the military dropped a thermobaric bomb, which draws surrounding oxygen as fuel, effectively “detonating the air” causing an explosion that eliminates close targets. This carnage was unparalleled. The force of the explosion left human remains and bits of clothes hanging from tree branches.
This unrelenting dominance of the junta to dehumanise the masses is not only possible because the regime is getting the unstinted support of many countries (including ASEAN) who supply aviation fuel to carry on this barbarity but also because China is backing Myanmar’s unlawful government as its stakes are high in the region.
A few days back a community hall was bombed killing an estimated 100 people, including 30 children and several charred bodies were found later. Maung Zarni, a Burmese scholar, dissident, human rights activist termed these attacks as “terrorism from the sky.” Airstrikes have targeted high schools, hospitals and places of worship. The military uses jets which are fuelled by supplies coming from Russia and China. Therefore, unless the supplies of aviation fuel are stopped by these countries, civilian lives will continue to be in jeopardy.
Discreet steps to revive dialogue?
The US is conspicuous by its absence from the global discourse on Myanmar, though it calls itself a champion of democracy and human rights. At international summits, US President Joe Biden hasn’t talked about Myanmarese military repression. The US is preoccupied with the war in Ukraine and in containing Chinese expansionism in the Indo Pacific.
It’s ironical that the military junta which has been escalating attacks on innocent civilians had recently reduced the prison sentences of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. This step is seen as a significant climbdown by the military. According to the BBC, the military junta has made other concessions in what appears to be an effort to revive stalled diplomacy efforts.
Suu Kyi was also moved from prison to house arrest in the capital Nay Pyi Taw. The 78-year-old Nobel laureate has been detained by the military since February 2021 following the coup that ousted her. The coup triggered civil war in the country and has led to the deaths of thousands of people.
Though there are difficult areas to negotiate with her party which won a huge majority in the 2020 elections, this could be a signal by the junta that it is open to re-negotiation. This step towards a possible dialogue can be attributed to a discreet meeting the junta had recently with the Thai military with which it has traditionally shared a close relationship.
India, though not taking a proactive role diplomatically, has warned Myanmar to guard its border with India more closely as spillovers of tribal refugees and criminal elements involving in the narcotics trade and human trafficking are destablising the situation on the Indian side, especially in Manipur.
The junta must understand that forcible occupation of a land has its pitfalls. The international community is not as politically invested in Myanmar as it ought to be, but the civil society is closely monitoring Myanmarese atrocities, the killing of innocent children and the vulnerable. The impunity with which the junta is acting cannot go on for ever.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Jangipur College, Kalyani University, West Bengal. Views are personal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)