An anti-coup demonstration in downtown Yangon on February 8. Due to bloody crackdowns by security forces, the mass street protests of February have given way to flash-mob demonstrations in cities and towns and guerrilla conflict in the countryside. (AFP)
An anti-coup demonstration in downtown Yangon on February 8. Due to bloody crackdowns by security forces, the mass street protests of February have given way to flash-mob demonstrations in cities and towns and guerrilla conflict in the countryside. (AFP)

Myanmar counts cost of coup, 100 days on

So far neither calls for restraint nor sanctions from foreign powers have deflected the generals off their chosen course, but conflict is escalating in rural areas and protesters remain defiant.

By AFP

One hundred days after the military seized power, the Christian nun who pleaded for protesters on her knees on the streets of Myitkyina says the coup has cast a pall of fear and depression over the country.

The image of Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng kneeling in the dust, arms spread, begging police in the Kachin State capital not to shoot “the children” went viral in March as the uprising against military rule swelled across Myanmar.

The 45-year-old nun has continued working in a clinic where she tends to patients injured by security forces or sickened from stress, as well as those who try to kill themselves.

“With the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and brutal actions of the military, there are more people who feel depressed and want to commit suicide,” she told AFP.

“People are living in fear and they feel hopeless.” 

Christian nun Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng pleads with police not to harm protesters amid a crackdown on an anti-coup demonstration in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina on March 8. (Myitkyina News Journal / AFP)
Christian nun Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng pleads with police not to harm protesters amid a crackdown on an anti-coup demonstration in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina on March 8. (Myitkyina News Journal / AFP)

On Tuesday, 100 days will have passed since the generals made their lightning power grab in the early morning of February 1, ousting the elected National League for Democracy government and detaining its leaders, including State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint..

The period has seen Myanmar plunge into chaos as the army struggles to control widespread opposition to its rule.

Around 780 civilians have been killed, according to local monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, as security forces have sought to suppress near-daily protests with brutal crackdowns and live rounds.

While praised for her bravery months ago, Ann Rose Nu Tawng said she thinks instead of the youths who are still fighting.

“They are sacrificing their lives for their future.”

Night after night, soldiers and police raid homes to arrest suspected activists – both protesters and those taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement that has crippled the state’s ability to function.

Despite the dangers, the movement persists, fuelled by a young generation who came of age since the country began to open up with limited democratic reforms a decade ago.

“We want to stand on the right side of history,” said a protester in Yangon.

‘It’s not going to quiet down’

The bloody intensity of the crackdowns has ebbed in recent weeks – partly as demonstrators have switched to flashmob tactics to avoid the risk of being shot.

But if the violence in Myanmar’s urban centres has slowed, clashes between the military and ethnic armed groups in its border regions have intensified.

“It’s not going to quiet down,” said Yangon-based political analyst U Khin Zaw Win.

“The regime thinks that everything will be okay by June, but it is a delusion.”

In Kayin State on the border with Thailand, the Karen National Union – who are sheltering dissidents fleeing to their territory – has captured Myanmar military posts and been hit with multiple air strikes in return.

Clashes in Kachin State have also ticked up, and in a dramatic display of the capabilities of some ethnic armed groups, last week the Kachin Independence Army shot down a military helicopter.

Several of these armed groups have come out in support of the anti-junta movement, even providing basic training to the young protesters. 

But so far, calls for the disparate groups to unite into a “federal army” have not borne fruit.

The underground National Unity Government, formed by elected MPs and ethnic leaders in mid-April to defy the junta’s authority, this month announced the creation of a “People’s Defence Force” to protect civilians from the military. 

Anti-coup protesters in the Tanintharyi Region capital Dawei on May 7 hold up a banner in support of the newly announced "People's Defence Force". (Dawei Watch / AFP)
Anti-coup protesters in the Tanintharyi Region capital Dawei on May 7 hold up a banner in support of the newly announced “People’s Defence Force”. (Dawei Watch / AFP)

Details about the new armed force are scant and the NUG, whose members are in hiding or in exile, does not appear to be directing armed operations on the ground, despite many new civil defence groups pledging allegiance to the PDF.

But the junta on Saturday designated it a “terrorist group”, blaming it for “bombing, arson, manslaughter and intimidation to disrupt state administrative machinery”.

‘The people did not choose this

So far neither calls for restraint nor United States, European Union and British sanctions have shown signs of deflecting the generals off their chosen course.

A summit of regional bloc ASEAN last month – attended by junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing – yielded no more than a “five-point consensus” calling for dialogue, an end to violence and the appointment of a special envoy.

But even this limited achievement was undermined days later, when the junta said it would heed “suggestions” only when “the situation returns to stability”.

On the global stage, hard-hitting United Nations-level sanctions have been stymied by China and Russia, who say they would be counterproductive.

Myanmar’s economy – reeling as workers nationwide down tools rather than cooperate under military rule – is expected to contract by a staggering 10 percent in 2021, according to the World Bank. 

And the UN Development Programme warned the combined effect of the pandemic and the coup turmoil could see nearly half of the population living in poverty by next year.

“The military has chosen the wrong moment to launch a coup and to face a civil war,” said analyst Khin Zaw Win, adding that they have “lost all public support”.

“The people did not choose this. It is the generals who did and they will pay the price.”

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