After the initial burst of news, there have been few updates in the UK press on the situation in Myanmar following the military coup in February 2021. This was till recently on 25th July 2022, when the military rulers announced that 4 democracy activists were executed. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), these 4 executions "were the first carried out among some 117 death sentences handed down by military-run courts since the coup".
Chinese Libdems posted two articles on Myanmar previously Standing with Myanmar - Military rule and the struggle for democracy in Myanmar (March 2021) and Myanmar's Simmering War and UK's moral duty (June 2021). Given recent developments, it is perhaps timely to give an update on the situation.
Based on our research, we have gleaned the following:
- Myanmar is in early stages of civil war. The pro-democracy groups have set up a National Unity Government (NUG) and has established a People's Defence Force (PDF). Other armed groups are the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAO) and the Sit-Tat (Myanmar Armed Forces belonging to the Junta).
- Myanmar is fragmented along conflict lines. Some areas are under NUG control, and others by the various EAOs and the SIT-Tat. Some areas would be in conflict as between government and rebel groups. There is also a breakdown of national institutions (i.e., the military government) with some villages establishing their own administrative bodies.
In July 2022, China's foreign minister during his first visit since the coup, "called for Myanmar's junta to hold talks with its opponents". The Junta would of course want to retain power as far as possible and is currently set on destroying the NUG despite calling themselves a transition government. The NUG on the other hand is far from united with some seeking the replacement of the 2008 Constitution without any power sharing arrangements. The execution of the 4 political activists can only stiffen the resolve of the NUG to defeat the Junta.
Ye Myo Hein, Director of the Tagaung Institute of Political Studies, in his report to the UN considered 4 possible scenarios:
(a) Junta wins, (b) there is a negotiated settlement, (c) Pro-democracy forces attain victory or (d) Myanmar fragments/balkanises.
To us the viable road map forward is clear. We have to avoid scenarios (a) and (d) and work towards (b) or (c).
What then can the West and the international community do to help?
In every conflict situation, especially one as complex as that in Myanmar, one needs to embark on the twin tracks of conflict resolution and transition to a democratic government. In this regard we have relied on studies by Constitutional law expert, Prof Christine Bell of Edinburgh University who has drawn lessons from past conflicts (including in Iraq, Congo and Afghanistan). What then are the possible trajectories of having parallel governments and what can international actors practically do to de-escalate the current violence?
The executions have drawn condemnation from around the world, including from the UK and EU in their joint statement
Some are calling for more sanctions and on an arms embargo but as far as we are aware there have been no offer of incentives of financial or military assistance to NUG or rebel groups.
ASEAN agreed a five-point consensus in April 2021 on Myanmar calling for cessation of violence, dialogue with all stakeholders, humanitarian aid, a special ASEAN envoy to conduct talks, and visit by a special envoy to meet all parties. To date the special envoy Prak Sokhonn has made 2 visits and is planning a third.
Further, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, "speaking at the side of the United Nations' Special Envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur said the executions would be a focus of the upcoming meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers in early August.
As ASEAN has come out strongly in condemning the executions, it is hoped that ASEAN will be taking a more forceful stance rather than its usual cautious approach. Perhaps ASEAN should not try to go it alone but in a partnership with the UN Special Envoy to Myanmar.
Action is needed now, not mere words.