Myanmar: Death Toll Rising

It’s precisely as horrific as we have come to expect from the rogue armed forces of Myanmar. If they want to shoot a guy for being a peaceful activist and his seven-year-old daughter happens to be sitting on his lap when the men with guns break in, they’ll just shoot her too. This kind of brutality begs for a reasoned explanation.

Myanmar is unusual. A real backwater for decades, it’s hotly strategic in the context of the China-India rivalry. Geopolitical pressures abound. Chinese and Russian ambassadors visited Min Aung Hlaing, the coup leader and head of the Tatmadaw, just before the putsch. It is widely suspected that China gave the green light to ensure a totally pliant regime in Myanmar. China is prioritizing their influence in nations bordering India.

Yet the situation is nonetheless remarkable in its characteristics. A nation’s armed forces is attempting to subjugate an entire population. It’s not as if there are factions to play off. All are opposed. In 60 years, no one in the country has seen such unity among the ethnic armies. Those taking part in anti-anti-coup activities are Shanghaied army veterans whose pensions are dividends from Tatmadaw-owned companies; the generals can cut off anyone who disobeys. It might as well be called forced labour, because that’s what it is. You can even see the echo of it in raw footage. NCOs or police lieutenants pushing their men forward, pointing out targets for them to aim at.

The battle here is elemental. It’s between the people of a nation, who thought they were gradually recovering from the horrors of decades of military rule, and the Tatmadaw, which is the quintessence of evil in the world. They are documented rapists, murderers, random killers, torchers of long-held property, enslavers of ethnic people. They are resource-extraction specialists on the side. They keep the cash.

Now Hlaing and his associates are winding up their PR campaign. With the Israeli-Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe on board for a no-doubt astronomical fee, the generals are anxious for results, When the people decided to show the level of their solidarity in opposition to the violent overthrow of their fairly elected government by staying at home on a silent protest. So the generals were advised to take the PR initiative, to release cell-occupying minor protesters on the same day. They also ‘released’ cash for desperately needed state pensions, then stipulated that they must be collected at Yangon’s railway station. This was to get anxious parents and hungry elders onto the streets. The prisoner release, self-serving as it was since the space will be much-needed for more deliberately targeted inmates, played alongside the silent protest (see pictures for how completely it was observed in downtown Yangon) on the nightly news.

An entire people (minus a million Rohingya and countless Shan, Karen, and others who fled before) is now internally displaced, in their own homes. Yet it will be a refugee crisis: people are already undertaking the grueling and dangerous walk west to India.

This first appeared on Maqshosh.

John Clamp writes for Maqshosh.